The history of the hoodie is undoubtedly a colourful one. Its origins date as far back as medieval times, when hooded garments were worn by everyone from monks to outdoor workers. The hoodie as we know it today was popularised in the 30s by the now cult sportswear brand Champion, which produced them as a practical solution for warehouse workers.
Today, perceptions of the hoodie are both myriad and complex. Thanks to streetwear’s cooption by haute couture, it’s become a status symbol for any self-respecting hypebeast, but the act of wearing a hoodie is also highly politicised, often stereotyped by the media as a symbol of social inequality and criminality.
A new show at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam is taking a deep dive into the story of the hoodie, as seen through photography, film, installation, fashion, social media and other cultural artefacts. Curator Lou Stoppard is no stranger to a fashion-focused exhibition; she also co-curated Open Eye Gallery’s hugely popular show North: Identity, Fashion, Photography, which explored the impact of northern style on the wider world.
With the hoodie being in and out of the news for a significant proportion of her teenage years and adult life, Stoppard says she was surprised that an exhibition of this kind hadn’t been done before, and jumped at the chance to help bring the show to life.
“In the UK in the mid 2000s, there was a period of moral panic around the hoodie – young men were getting ASBOs stating that they couldn’t wear them during certain hours or in certain places, shopping centres were banning them, and politicians even started a much-mocked Hug a Hoodie campaign. Later, in the US, coverage and agitation around the hoodie continued with horrific events like the murder of Trayvon Martin,” she says.
“At the same time, the hoodie was emerging as a key new part of high fashion – a sign of the influence of streetwear and sportswear on luxury brands. So, while the hoodie was being maligned by some media as an emblem of deviancy or crime or rebellion, it was also being heralded as a trend in some glossy magazines. It felt like there were so many stories being told that, in turn, reflected broader societal issues.”
Given the complexity of the topic, the process of narrowing down what items would make it into the exhibition was a lengthy one. “For me, it was important to look at many different angles, and acknowledge that we couldn’t, for example, show every designer hoodie that had ever been made, or every great photograph of someone in a hoodie,” says Stoppard.
Instead, she decided to focus on key themes, including the emergence of the modern hoodie, debates around racial profiling and police brutality, the sustainability of clothing production, and the uniforms of specific subcultures and music movements. Alongside designs by high-end streetwear brands like Off-White and Vetements and fashion photography by the likes of Campbell Addy, are artworks which directly respond to the social issues surrounding the hoodie, such as Devan Shimoyama’s floral hoodie piece that pays tribute to Trayvon Martin.
The show also cleverly brings a number of relevant social media posts into the real world, specifically the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, which went viral among young people of colour following the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in 2014, and was typically accompanied by juxtaposed imagery of the participants at work or at a wedding alongside another image of them wearing hoodies, gold chains and baseball caps.
While one exhibition clearly isn’t going to undo several decades worth of stereotypes, Stoppard says she hopes The Hoodie will at least shine a light on overly simplistic perceptions of the issue at hand. “There is a lot going on – the show is loosely ordered around topic, but many overlap and many objects are juxtaposed – historical pieces with contemporary garments, photographs alongside ephemera and printed matter, digital pieces alongside artworks. In a way it all serves to show how intense and, often, contradictory existing coverage and discussion of the hoodie has been.”
The Hoodie is at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam from 1 December – 12 April; hetnieuweinstituut.nl