“Rebel Without a Cause,” “Quadrophenia,” “La Haine,” “Scarface”: When Cinema Leads Fashion.
Throughout history, cinema has served as a powerful mirror of society, weaving the threads of culture, politics, music, and art together. It has permeated social movements, shaped trends, and tangibly influenced fashion. Certain films have played a pivotal role in shaping style, acting as pioneers for entire subcultures and eras.
This list presents 10 films that anticipated and profoundly influenced streetwear fashion, propelling styles and clothing items to the height of popularity.
Each movie represents a valuable piece of urban clothing history, demonstrating how cinema has been a key catalyst in defining contemporary stylistic standards.
Rebel Without a Cause, 1955
James Dean only starred in three films during his lifetime, yet he became an iconic figure in pop culture and remains one to this day. References to the rebellious actor can be found in music, cinema, books, art, and fashion. His simple yet impactful style, including a leather jacket, rolled-up white T-shirt, jeans with cuffs, and boots, still influences fashion today. James Dean’s style introduced the notion that dressing casually was cooler than formal attire, marking the first step toward the power and status that streetwear still holds.
Moreover, the film “Rebel Without a Cause” pioneered the trend of Cimosato denim in Japan. The Japanese fell in love with James Dean‘s rugged and durable denim, featuring visible seams and large hems. Levi’s jeans worn in the film became so popular in Japan, mainly among affluent youth (due to import costs) and those looking to rebel against the country’s traditionalism, earning them the nickname “Taiyōzoku,” which translates to “Pachyderm” (due to the straight and stiff cut of the denim, resembling elephant legs).
Taxi Driver, 1976
Martin Scorsese‘s dark 1976 thriller, “Taxi Driver,” remains a cinematic masterpiece, primarily known for Robert De Niro‘s portrayal of Travis Bickle. Bickle, a Vietnam War veteran burdened with post-traumatic stress disorder, works as a nighttime taxi driver in the streets of New York City to cope with his insomnia.
The film keenly captures the countercultural phenomenon of the early ’70s when war veterans returned home wearing their combat gear and were seen more as style icons than veterans. This alternative style quickly gained popularity among the public and, in the 21st century, became a significant trend in clothing, known as the military clothing phenomenon.
Starting from the ’70s, items like the M-65 military jacket became staples in fashion, with streetwear brands like BAPE, Supreme, Maharishi, and Needles creating their interpretations of military clothing. While the film undoubtedly had a significant impact on the rise of this trend, it also directly influenced one of the major streetwear brands.
In 1994, Supreme opened its Lafayette Street store in New York and, to celebrate the event, created a “Taxi Driver”-inspired T-shirt. These original shirts have become extremely rare and are now considered treasures by die-hard Supreme and film fans.
“Quadrophenia” is a generational film from 1979, loosely based on The Who’s 1973 rock opera of the same name. Directed by Franc Roddam, the movie is set in 1964 London and tells the story of Jimmy, a disaffected twenty-year-old marginalized by society, who only finds solace when associating with his subculture community, the Mods.
The film not only provides a lucid portrayal of working-class youth but also offers a detailed look at the rebellious life and style of the Mods. They wear elegant clothing, listen to the pop and soul music of the moment, take amphetamines, and ride scooters, especially Italian brands. Through the portrayal of the Mod subculture, “Quadrophenia” carries a potent anthropological analysis that extends to fashion. Parkas, chino pants, jackets, and workwear styles are just some examples of the film’s influence on contemporary streetwear. Brands like Neighborhood, Carhartt WIP, and Supreme have paid tribute to the film with dedicated capsule collections.
Some may wonder why “Scarface” is on this list, as the style of the protagonists, especially Al Pacino, corresponds to the flashy fashion prevalent in late ’70s America.
However, beyond the film’s powerful tagline “The World is Yours,” repeatedly referenced and revered in various cultural contexts, including street culture, the 1983 film directed by Brian De Palma serves as a potent incubator of urban style.
“Scarface” is the type of film that transcends the media, perhaps more famous for its dialogues and attitude than its actual style. The rags-to-riches story had been told many times before the film’s release, but Al Pacino’s portrayal of Tony Montana represents the epitome of the genre. Streetwear has parodied, quoted, and remembered “Scarface” multiple times, establishing it as an absolute must-know cultural reference. Supreme’s FW17 capsule entirely dedicated to Tony Montana serves as proof.
La Haine, 1995
In 1995, Mathieu Kassovitz transported us to the ghettoized neighborhoods of Paris through the powerful film “La Haine.” The movie unfolds within the context of French housing projects and tells the story of three young individuals grappling with the dramatic consequences of the violence that has shaken their community during a riot. Despite its production in 1995, the film maintains a contemporary resonance, both for the social issues it addresses and for its perspective on the fashion adopted by the three protagonists.
The clothing depicted in “La Haine” seems to somehow foreshadow contemporary style trends, with the characters wearing Nike tracksuits, reversed Carhartt caps, shearling jackets, and oversized garments without any recognizable branding.
Beyond being undeniably fashionable, each piece of clothing also serves to represent the inner struggles of the individual characters. For instance, the repressed character of Vinz chooses to remain closed off from others in some way through his clothing choices, isolating himself from his peers.
The Breakfast Club, 1985
“The Breakfast Club” was one of those films that strongly impacted younger generations, thanks to its portrayal of a main character from each typical high school social group. These characters quickly became style icons, and their individual looks continue to influence contemporary fashion. Judd Nelson‘s character, John, known as “The Bad Boy,” perfectly embodied the rebellious spirit of the ’80s.
His biker jacket, plaid shirt, biker boots, earrings, and fingerless gloves were all distinctive elements of his look. This classic yet bold style has stood the test of time, remaining popular back then and still evoked today.
However, the film made a significant misstep in revamping Allison, the character with a monochromatic black look, which underwent a transformation that was not appreciated by fans.
Boyz n the Hood, 1991
Few films have had as strong an impact as “Boyz n the Hood,” John Singleton’s 1991 coming-of-age drama. The film follows three childhood friends struggling to navigate the dangers of street life in South Central L.A.
Culturally, the district has had a profound impact on music, art, and fashion emerging from suburbs like Compton, Inglewood, and Crenshaw. Today, “Boyz n the Hood” stands as a testimony to early ’90s streetwear, featuring trends like snapback caps, flannels, double denim, bold colors, and patterns, all impeccably sported by the protagonists.
“Boyz in the Hood” undoubtedly had a massive influence on streetwear. Perhaps it marked the beginning of a new era, representing an authentic and raw streetwear style. Following the film’s success, many of these once-niche trends seemed to seamlessly integrate into streetwear and now stand as wardrobe staples for communities worldwide.
In the same year as “La Haine,” cinema offered another gem: the controversial film about adolescence, “Kids,” directed by Larry Clark.
“Kids” follows a young group of New York skaters as they engage in a series of questionable acts, including sex, drugs, and violence, over the course of a single day.
Notably shot with an almost non-existent budget, actors like Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, and Leo Fitzpatrick were encouraged to wear their own clothes on set, lending the film an unparalleled authenticity. Many of the products and clothing in the film came from New York’s Supreme store, where many of the actors spent their time and money. The result was an effortless representation of ‘90s youth culture that left a lasting imprint on streetwear, quite incidentally.
Supreme even celebrated the 20th anniversary of “Kids” in 2015 with a collection exclusively inspired by the film. The collection included a hoodie, a set of graphic tees, and skateboards featuring stills from the cult film.
Straight Outta Compton, 2015
The biopic dedicated to N.W.A was widely anticipated as a film destined to become a cult hit in streetwear, as the hip-hop collective represented one of the foremost style icons of the ’80s and ’90s.
N.W.A embodied multiple meanings, using their art as a vehicle to express their truths and denounce everyday injustices. Therefore, if their words were to resonate deeply, their clothing had to be equally bold and impactful. One of the most notable aspects of their style was that, despite their financial success, they remained loyal to the same clothing items and brands. They amassed millions of dollars but maintained a humble attitude.
Additionally, the costume design in this film highlighted a fundamental element of streetwear: the concept of uniformity. This uniformity brings street people together, allowing them to identify with one another. However, within this uniformity, each group member expresses their individual style. And this represents the core of streetwear. “Straight Outta Compton” helped remind us of this, especially at times when streetwear appeared to have been overly commercialized, risking the loss of its authenticity.
Furthermore, the film‘s notable success produced a predictable outcome: a significant resurgence of ’80s streetwear.
In conclusion, these ten films have left an indelible mark on the world of streetwear fashion, showcasing how cinema can be a powerful influencer in shaping our style preferences. From the iconic rebel James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” to the gritty portrayal of urban life in “Boyz n the Hood” and the raw authenticity of youth culture in “Kids,” each of these movies has contributed to the evolution of streetwear.
Notably, these films have not only influenced fashion trends but have also reflected the cultural and societal shifts of their respective eras. “Taxi Driver” captured the post-Vietnam War disillusionment, “Quadrophenia” delved into the world of British Mods, and “Scarface” embodied the flashy excesses of the late ’70s.
Moreover, the connection between streetwear and these films goes beyond mere fashion; it encompasses a sense of identity, rebellion, and authenticity. These movies have resonated with audiences, sparking a desire to embody the spirit of their characters through clothing choices.
As we look back at the impact of these films, it becomes evident that streetwear is not merely about clothes but also about storytelling and cultural expression. The garments worn by characters in these movies have become symbols, representing the aspirations, struggles, and attitudes of the times.
In a world where fashion continually evolves, these films stand as timeless references, reminding us of the enduring influence of cinema on what we wear and how we express ourselves. They serve as a testament to the fact that streetwear is more than just a trend; it’s a cultural phenomenon deeply embedded in our history and our identities.