The hoodie: from protection to threat
Hoodies are my favourite item of clothing. I enjoy designing them, making them, and most of all wearing them. A hoodie can make me feel protected and cosy, or invincible when I feel weak. When I just want to focus and stay in my zone, nothing makes my feelings clearer than a pulled-up hoodie. What other piece of clothing performs so many functions?
So where does the hoodie come from, and how has it become such a modern day staple?
The US sportswear company Champion claims to have invented the modern hoodie in the 1930s, when a hood was first added to a sweatshirt to help keep athletes warm during training. The same style of hoodie then gained popularity with warehouse workers in New York, helping them stay warm in often cold and draughty workplaces.
Muhammad Ali in training in London in 1963
The hoodie didn’t outgrow its utilitarian roots until the mid 1970s, when hip hop culture adopted the garment. Graffiti artists used hoodies to help hide their identities, while break-dancers wore them “to keep their bodies warm before they hit the floor.”
A pair of graffiti artists tag a wall in New York City, circa 1977/ Des Willie / Redferns
It was with the success of the film Rocky in 1976, however, that the hoodie truly came to be recognised as a fashion item.
The symbolism of the hoodie is quite clear in the film, as I'll explain with a brief analysis of Stallone’s screenplay.
Although the grey hoodie is emblematic of the story, we don’t actually see Rocky wearing it until halfway through the film. Rocky initially wears a fedora hat and leather jacket, both items which help convey his desire to conceal his precarious situation as a failed boxer and debt collector.
When he learns that he has a chance to fight for the heavyweight championship, he ditches the cigarettes and booze for hard training. With renewed belief and motivation, he gets down to work in the iconic dirty grey hoodie and tracksuit.
Whilst Creed, his future opponent, is busy talking business deals in a cushy office with his staff, Rocky is seen running around Philadelphia at dawn and punching meat in a slaughterhouse. What the hoodie represents here is the ultimate symbol of the individual who decides to stand up, to rebel against the system and take a shot at fame. The hoodie is the armor that protects Rocky during his training - guarding the only valuable thing he owns, his body.
The hoodie still carries rebellious connotations to this day, to the degree that fear of the hoodie - and the supposedly bad intentions of the young people who wear them - has become an observable cultural phenomenon across the western world.
Hoodie-wearing is routinely banned in shopping malls, nightclubs and other businesses across the UK and Europe, with the dubious rationale that this will help to deter crime and antisocial behaviour.
Fear and suspicion of the hoodie could also be seen as a factor in the horrific, racist murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, with the killer George Zimmerman describing the 17-year-old as a 'real suspicious guy... [who] looks like he's up to no good or is on drugs... [wearing a] dark hoodie... like a grey hoodie' in his call to police moments before shooting the unarmed teenager.
What I find fascinating but also problematic about the hoodie is its ability to provide either protection or danger to its wearer depending on the situation. When I design them, I am well aware that the hood will be worn down most of the time, and that's why I sometimes add playful details to my garments. The aim is for my hoodies to appear innocuous and frivolous - to tone down the rebellious connotations whilst celebrating the hoodie's origins at the same time.
Since the hoodie’s first move into mainstream fashion in the 1970s it has always remained a symbol of survival, and a reminder of the struggles of the working classes and minority groups. And this is still true, no matter if you pay £600 for a Balenciaga or £20 at JD Sports.
What are your experiences of wearing a hoodie?
Until next time,
Mother Pony x
Me in a hoodie, Florida, 1983