Hip-hop fashion has come a long way from the track suits and baggy jeans of the 1980s and 1990s to the Vivienne Westwood hat that Pharrell Williams donned at the 2014 Grammys and the leather kilt that Kanye West occasionally sports onstage. The documentary “Fresh Dressed” presents a lively history of style, from the street to the stage.
In his feature filmmaking debut, writer-director Sacha Jenkins has assembled an impressive array of archival footage and voices, including those of former Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley and musicians Nas, West and Williams (here wearing a much smaller hat, in addition to a fur-collared coat draped elegantly over his shoulders). Each speaker gives his perspective on fashion, lending credence to the view that a pair of Air Jordans is more than a set of sneakers.
In the 1980s, the film explains, hip-hop style emerged out of a sense of identity: People chose sides in gang wars and dressed accordingly. As one former gang member says, the look — an outlaw style that was all about denim and leather — was ripped off from the film “Easy Rider.” But as street violence gave way to battles of words and dance moves that stoked the rap and b-boy movements, fashion changed, too. Each borough in New York had a different look, whether it was head-to-toe Adidas or the oversized glasses and Kangol bucket hats popularized by the rap trio Run-DMC.
Nowadays, we’re used to hearing rappers boast about high-priced luxury brands. But even in the early years of hip-hop, clothing was aspirational. As Christopher Reid (a.k.a. Kid from the group Kid ’n Play) explains, he might have been penniless before he was famous, but he was always determined to look good. The hyperbolic West echoes that sentiment: “I only wanted money so I could be fresh.”
The movie takes a fascinating detour into the evolution of such brands as Karl Kani and Cross Colours, which have become hugely popular by catering to young black Americans after many mainstream brands ignored the demographic. That’s no longer the case, according to “Fresh Dressed,” with today’s hip-hop stars getting front-row seats during Fashion Week and rapping about Louis Vuitton and Versace.
The film doesn’t always dig deeply, glossing over why certain trends have emerged. And some of the interviews don’t add much to the movie beyond star power. “Fresh Dressed” nevertheless offers an original and worthwhile look at the history of hip-hop style. And the soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.
Unrated. At Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. Contains strong language. 90 minutes.