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14 NYC Streetwear Brands

New York City has been the epicenter of fashion for centuries, but in the new millennium, haute couture and Fashion Week have become increasingly passe. In fact, the average Manhattanite simply scoffs at the banality of runway shows and all the industry try-hards. Because media spectacle often trumps actual design, real fashion experts have turned to New York’s streetwear as the paradigm of what’s actually on-trend.

Streetwear, as opposed to formal wear, is both minimalist and maximalist: bold patterns and striking statements juxtaposed with sleek lines and clean silhouettes. New York’s skate and hip-hop culture — in turn, sometimes borrowing from the history of punk and goth fashion, which also both have long NY traditions — are the principal influences on the style. But as streetwear evolves, it’s increasingly borrowing from the highbrow world in what influential designer Luca Benini called a “cross-pollination.”

There’s a sort of irony in that what once defined casual cool is now painstakingly crafted, studied, and dissected. Nor is streetwear always affordable anymore, with luxury brands charging thousands of dollars for limited edition ready-to-wear collections. 

In New York in 2020, the development of streetwear has become increasingly schizophrenic — with the popularity of normcore reaching its zenith in 2014 (giving way to an endless onslaught of the ’90s and ’00s nostalgia) and an ever-intensifying atmosphere of political strife, NYC’s streetwear landscape is less coherent and more confusing than ever. Do these brands want to capture the zeitgeist? Is the emphasis more on ingenuity than design? How much can designers capitalize on cultures from yesteryear? And why are the price points always skyrocketing?

The extent to which streetwear is even worn anymore has now become a question. Are some brands’ ultra limited-edition wares simply traded instead of actually utilized? If streetwear is simply a collector’s item, what does that mean for the future of fashion?

We might not have answers to these existential questions, but in celebration of streetwear’s true home, we’ve curated a list of the best NYC brands we could find. The emphasis here is on actual wearability over clout.

1. Supreme

Let’s get this out of the way: could a discussion about contemporary streetwear — or New York streetwear — even be had without mentioning Supreme? Although the brand’s high-priced and ultra-limited edition lines have become fodder for endless knock-offs and the subject of snooty fashion derision, the unique visual language of Supreme endures throughout the world. The ubiquitous clothing line has even become its own form of cryptocurrency amongst certain circles. That’s how you know you’ve really made it.

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www.supremenewyork.com
2. Money Green Merch

Power to the stoners! Money Green Merch, a small clothing brand attached to a budding hip hop label, is selling socially conscious activist wear that makes not-so-subtle political statements. Weed’s not quite legalized yet here in NYC, but you can get ahead of De Blasio and Cuomo on the matter with this merch.

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https://www.bigwolftrap.com/merch
3. SABIT

High-end fashion line SABIT specializes in hand-made and specially tailored garments: “We enjoy making clothes. This is the energy of our products,” reads the company’s sparse mission statement. The label’s kimono-style jackets, bombers, and college-branded sweaters aren’t cheap but the level of craft and care in each garment is worth the price.

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http://sabitnyc.com/shop
4. 5boroNYC

As per their name, 5boroNYC is paying homage to this great city’s distinctly idiosyncratic sections. A sendup to classic New York pride, the brand’s hoodie, hat, and t-shirt designs range from graffiti-influenced to normcore. The label’s boards are wonderful, brujeria-inspired sendups to the indomitable spirit of the Big Apple. A nice bonus is that all the products are made in the USA.

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https://5boronyc.myshopify.com/
5. Privilege NYC

A few motifs run through the collections currently on sale at Privilege NYC: the “Saints and Sinners” micro-collection features corrupted religious iconography, while the Lafayette products are rife with the imagery of the French Revolution. The cosmology of the brand is a bit scattered, but the designs are striking nonetheless. Clock their retro polos while you browse the more contemporary shirts, shorts, hip packs, and sweaters.

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https://pvlgnyc.com/
6. Stay Cool NYC

The appropriately named “Stay Cool NYC” brand correctly describes its products as “retro-futuristic chillwear.” The 90’s nostalgia is apparent in every item, and the adorably whimsical air-brush graphics are masterpieces. It’s certainly more sugary than the average streetwear, but it’s all incredibly cute.

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https://www.staycoolnyc.com/
7. Kid Super

Kid Super has plenty to offer by way of politically-minded casual wear, but it’s the label’s hand-painted and embellished whimsical jackets and matching pants that are the standouts of the line. Many of the doodles on each item come from the head designer, Colm Dillane’s fine art practice.

“This [brand] was the perfect way to encapsulate my, and I think many others’, relationship to New York City,” reads Kid Super’s manifesto.

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https://kidsuper.com/
8. Public Housing Skate Team

With President Trump increasingly comparing urban areas to warzones, the militaristic imagery of this brand’s streetwear takes on overtly political overtones. Doodled bullet-proof vests and surveillance helicopters paint an ominous picture of inner-city life, but offer a sparse message of justice. See: the Pitbull Foundation t-shirt which asserts, “Don’t judge a dog by its breed.”

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https://www.publichousingskateteam.com/
9. Ronin Division

Named after Japan’s wandering warriors, Ronin Division brings a sleek, understated design philosophy to their smartly color-blocked and very limited edition jackets and tees. According to their mission statement, the brand is “looking to define the culture and experiences of the ruthless vagabond.” Sounds like a strong streetwear philosophy, if you ask us.

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https://www.ronindivision.com/collections/frontpage
10. Awake NY

“Awake NY is a reflection of the diversity that has defined the city’s cultural landscape. Simultaneously classic and contemporary, Awake NY evokes both the changing aesthetic vibrancy and timelessness of New York,” reads the brand’s website. Indeed, the brightly colored tees, flannel button downs, sweatpants, and hoodies are evocative of the brightest parts of New York’s concrete jungle. No stranger to anti-authoritarian statements, the “In God We Trust, In The President We Don’t” tee is likely to be a hot item this Summer — for obvious reasons.

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https://awakenyclothing.com/collections/spring-2020-online
11. Nine One Seven

Emblematic of a specific kind of post-vaporwave, post-internet psychedelia, Nine One Seven (named after the outdated yet still-pervasive NYC area code) is clearly a child of early 00’s skate culture aesthetics. More flirtatious and cartoonish hoodies and sweaters provide a juxtaposition to the brand’s bizarre offerings.

12. Alife NYC

Founded in 1999, Alife’s impeccably curated collection of sneakers showcases a particular paragon of on-trend footwear. From ultra-rare Yeezy’s to old-school Converse and limited edition collabs, Alife’s assortments of uniquely branded merch and specially assembled selections walk a fine balance between high-end designer loungewear and urban sensibilities, from a distinctly New York perspective.

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https://alifenewyork.com/
13. Tier NYC

Tier’s got the basic streetwear essentials: an assortment of French Terry cotton hoodies in various colorways including Easter pastels alongside basic shorts, socks, and tees. The brand’s offerings get a bit more sophisticated when you scroll down to their worker’s jackets and flannel button downs, which frequently have the eternal phrase “ART NEVER DIES” embroidered on them. Take note of the brand’s exquisite varsity jacket while you browse.

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https://www.shoptier.nyc/shop-1
14. Belief NYC

Aside from Staten Island, Queens is probably the borough that gets the least love — and it’s a shame! With an increasingly thriving nightlife scene and a rich history of powerful immigrant stories, Belief NYC is repping the maligned Astoria neighborhood through unapologetic and on-trend tie-dye and collegiate t-shirts and hoodies.

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https://shop.beliefnyc.com/collections/all

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