I JUST WEAR IT TO KEEP MY HEAD WARM… NOW STICK ‘EM UP!

Today we associate the hoodie with music genres like punk and hip-hop and with skater or surfer culture. As an article of clothing it is practical and in some climates essential.

The modern incarnation of the hoodie was first marketed to warehouse and outdoor workers in Upstate New York. Champion products claims to have made that first hooded sweatshirt in the early 1930’s, developed from techniques invented to sew thicker undergarments.

Cold-Storage warehouse workers and tree-doctors that worked through the winter asked for clothing that would keep them warmer than their long underwear.

At the same time, Champion was marketing directly to high schools, selling big, thick hooded sweatshirts to football and track athletes that they could wear as warm-up gear or in bad weather.

Fashion often develops from high schools and when track athletes began giving sweatshirts to their girlfriends to wear, the hooded sweatshirt became part of a popular style.

It was appropriate that Sylvester Stallone’s 1970’s character Rocky Balboa wore a hoodie. Wearing it as he punched sides of beef in the cold-freezer showed his humble, working-class roots. He was wearing it as athletic wear to be sure, but Rocky was from the “wrong side of the tracks” – he was an underdog, and he was wearing a hoodie.

From that began the recent history of the hoodie being worn by youth on the fringes of society. With them the hoodie comes to mean “anti-establishment”, sometimes “criminal”. It can be worn to keep a low profile, to move anonymously and it can be used to hide one’s identity.

When hip-hop culture developed in New York City, the hoodie became associated with graffiti artists for hiding identities and break-dancers for keeping warm before they busted a move. Less savoury were the “stick-up-kids” - actual muggers concealing who they were.

On the west coast, other outsiders adopted the hoodie as their own when the skate culture clashed with the punk culture and a darker subculture formed.

That is when hi-end clothing designers saw an opportunity. Houses like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, inspired by what they saw on the street brought the styles out of the high schools, into the street and full circle back again.

When a hoodie is mentioned in the description of a crime the cultural baggage seems amplified. Even though the hoodie is a comfy-cozy, warm and toasty zippered or pullover necessity (called a “Bunny-Hug” in parts of Canada), it is banned in some high schools, in some clubs and on the streets of some cities.

That is the way it has always been with the hoodie. There have always been positive and negative associations with it. For a thousand years hooded garments have been worn for good and for ill. They can be a sign of piety, honour and respect. The hooded monk`s cloak is an example as is the hooded gown worn at graduation ceremonies. And 12th century apprentices, away from home for years were known to riot in the gear.

If you look around today, you will see artists, innovators, athletes and entrepreneurs wearing hoodies. On the job Union Members wear branded hoodies as practical work wear. The hoodie and other basics like tee shirts or sweats have achieved the status of the uniform, being worn by creative types and working types alike.

The hoodie as we know it has a long history and is important to our culture. It can be utility wear, a fashion statement, a disguise or cultural symbol, and with all its positive points  (and perceived negative ones) the hoodie will be around for a long, long time.

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