Indian Streetwear, Hype Culture, And The Evolution Of Streetstyle In India

You’ve set a countdown for weeks, you’ve been obsessively checking the date on your phone, and now the day has finally arrived. Your fave Indian streetwear brand is doing a limited edition drop at 6 PM today, and you want to cop the latest fits, obviously. You eagerly refresh the tab, so you can quickly add it to your bag – this has almost become a routine for you. You hit refresh again, and lo and behold – everything has been sold out.

With the growing rise of hype culture in India (but more on that later), streetwear has definitely become the hottest commodity around – regardless of whether the only streets you’re strutting down is your hallway. After streetwear originated in the West when Shawn Stussy (of Stüssy fame) started printing logos on T-shirts in LA, California in the ’80s, it has evolved with the rise of hip-hop, and influences from street art (think Basquiat and Keith Haring) to become what it is today. And while Indian streetwear has definitely picked up elements from the West, it hasn’t just emerged out of imitation either.

According to Sohiny Das, co-founder of Grain Fashion Consultancy, it’s nearly impossible for Indian streetwear to be the same as its western counterparts. “Street style has to be a natural extension of a particular place. Geography, weather, architecture and the general vibe of the city influences how people dress,” she says. “We can’t compare India to America, or Mumbai local trains to the New York Subway.”


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So then, how did streetwear emerge in India? “Social media, social media, social media,” exclaims Sohiny. “Street style at the moment lives, breathes and thrives on the streets of Instagram. It’s a dual existential identity – what is worn in real life must be conducive to the ‘reels’ life. Everyone dresses with a photo-op context in their heads. Over the last decade (or a bit more), street style blogs and social media have made it possible for someone sitting in Kolkata to know what’s happening in Amsterdam. There’s more documentation now. And probably the reason why there’s some kind of uniformity globally in the way people dress – words like ‘normcore’ and ‘athleisure’ apply everywhere.”

These changes didn’t just appear out of thin air, either – we’ve had our own introduction to streetwear, whether we realised it or not, and we have pop culture to thank for it. “Pop culture is a huge part of daily life, and true street style is a reflection of that too. Manish Arora was someone who captured this essence in a Technicolor line-up called Fish Fry. The T-shirt brand Tantra had great slogans that reflected the general mindset: ‘Overeducated and Underemployed’ was my favourite in the ’90s,” reflects Sohiny.


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And as for the earliest influences of Indian streetwear? “Indian street-style has been inspiring global high fashion as well as street style across continents for many decades. The explosion of colours, patterns, textiles, layering, drapes and the heady mish-mash of everything have been intriguing to visitors, but something that we have taken in our strides, without thinking of it as a deliberate ‘style’,” Sohiny observes. “To me, the inherent Indian style statement is the nonchalant functionality attached to attire. For example, male workers wearing checkered lungis that are knotted and pulled up in cool ways to aid their work – they don’t wear it as a fashion trend, and they don’t even know how fashionable they are. But that’s what makes Indian street style so true.”


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And that definitely holds up – with the increase in references available for streetwear, the fashion industry and consumers have had to re-evaluate their collections and what they want to buy, respectively. But aside from that, another thing that’s contributed to the rise of streetwear is hype culture. Let’s put it this way – there’s something inherently ‘cool’ about streetwear, which comes from a ‘hype’ being built around it. Whether it’s a limited edition drop or plain-good marketing, everyone wants an elusive product – even if it means driving yourself crazy trying to buy it. And hype culture works its best when streetwear is involved – everyone wants the limited edition Yeezys, the chunky Balenciagas, even a Supreme brick. (Yes, you read that right. An actual brick constitutes street-culture aesthetics now.)
And the case is pretty similar for India. With the rise in hype culture in India as well (once again, thank you, Instagram) and more and more homegrown streetwear brands, there’s been a counter-effect. The streetwear movement has transitioned from the love of cultural references in fashion to purchases made for the sake of ‘flexing’ on social media. Fashion, here, takes a backseat. And while we love our oversized, puffer jackets, and our baggy joggers that make a style statement of their own, at some point, we do need to question our love for streetwear and how organic it really is. But there is another argument here, about how streetwear is comfortable and makes us look good while allowing a certain layer of breathability – even if it’s high fashion. You could even say it puts the ‘leisure’ in athleisure. (Sorry, not sorry.) And one thing’s for certain – regardless of what you want to say about streetwear, it’s here to stay. Limited edition drops and all.

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