The History of Men’s Hoodies
Lester Fangonilo - October 5, 2021
The hoodie is one of the most common items found in many modern wardrobes. But have you ever thought about who came up with the idea first? Read on to find out.
The hoodie - essentially a sweatshirt or sweater with a hood - has become one of the most ubiquitous pieces you’re bound to find in a guy’s closet and, most likely, one of the most used pieces of clothing in his wardrobe. Men’s hoodies have been with us for so long that, like T-shirts and sneakers, we don’t often stop to think about how they came about and who came up with the idea for them first.
In today’s feature, we intend to see exactly where the modern men’s hoodie came from, how it evolved into the popular garment it has become, and how exactly it has changed over time.
Steeped in History - Ancient History
Quite obviously, men’s hoodies are not a recent innovation. The first hooded garments worn by men date as far back as 3,000 years ago.
According to Paola Antonelli, senior curator for architecture and design as well as director of research and development at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, hoods and other head coverings have been worn by men as far back as the Golden Age of Greece and the heyday of the Roman Empire.
During the Middle Ages, the foundation of monastic orders resulted in creating hooded habits (robes) to distinguish one group of monks or priests from another. Among commoners, a hooded cowl was worn by farmers and tradespeople as a way of keeping their heads, necks, and shoulders warm during the colder months.
However, as practical as hoods were for the people of the time, hooded garments also had a sinister air about them given where - and why - some people wore them. In the 1300s, as the Black Death swept throughout most of the civilized world, religious men, physicians, and undertakers wore masks and hooded garments to minister to the sick, the dying, and the recently deceased.
Their garments marked them as people who needed to be avoided by commoners lest they came into contact with the plague. In later centuries, executioners were also identified by their black hoods. Those served to protect their anonymity and prevented reprisal from the families and friends of those whom they ushered into the hereafter. This is also the reason why Death is depicted in art as an entity cloaked in black, its head covered by a dark hood - and it is an association that has remained to this day.
In a less lethal - but certainly more salacious - context, hooded cloaks were worn by both men and women in the 17th Century whenever they were off to an illicit rendezvous with their lovers. Malcontents in dark hoods, regardless of gender, have since become a part of the cloak-and-dagger literary genre and the term “black hood” often refers to a traitor or a spy in one’s midst.
But literary and societal associations aside, hooded garments have withstood the test of time and remain common even in the 21st Century. Which poses another question: how did the modern hoodie come about?
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20th Century: From Workman’s Uniform to a Wardrobe Staple
The modern men’s hoodie - at least, in the form we are familiar with today - is actually less than a hundred years old.
During the Great Depression, a company called the Knickerbocker Knitting Company in Rochester, NY, hit upon a technique for sewing thicker, fluffier fabrics into cold-weather garments that, while lighter than a great-coat, would nevertheless keep the wearer warm in all but the most bitter days of the winter months.
This led to the production of what company salesmen referred to as sweatshirts (because the fabric also helped keep workers dry), and these were a major draw for customers. In addition, company tailors improved the design by adding hoods that could be tightened or loosened with drawstrings for harsher weather conditions.
1930s - 1960s
In the 1930s, Knickerbocker Knitting became the company we know today as Champion - a name they took on because there was a growing demand for their hooded sweatshirts from colleges and universities who wanted to add these items as a training kit for their varsity athletes.
From 1934 onwards, what we know today as the hoodie - a hooded sweatshirt with a marsupial pouch/pocket for keeping one’s hands warm - became a popular garment among college students. They wore them at games or for warming up and expressing their school pride since many hoodies were produced bearing the logos of various schools.
Throughout the next several decades, there weren’t many embellishments to the hooded sweatshirt. But when actor Sylvester Stallone wore a grey hoodie in the iconic workout scene from his award-winning 1976 film Rocky, film audiences across the globe decided that they needed one. If Rocky Balboa could train to greatness wearing a grey hoodie, then so could they!
But it was the world of rap and hip-hop that truly gave the hoodie its street cred, as well as a veneer of glamour that took it far from its origins as a workman’s way to stay warm. In fact, the hoodie’s association with rappers and breakdancers actually predates its appearance in Rocky.
1970s to 1990s
Between 1974 and 1975, style watchers and music enthusiasts noted that hooded sweatshirts were worn by urban artists (both legitimate ones and graffiti hooligans) and breakdancers who used them to keep the chill of the concrete off themselves whenever they were performing in the streets.
Later on, the hoodie was seen as a cultural counterpoint - or a protest - against the harder leather-and-metal look rock bands and their fans preferred: a warmer, more approachable, yet still somewhat intimidating way for men to dress.
The 1970s also saw the hoodie’s debut into the world of haute couture. Designers like Norma Kamali of OMO Norma Kamali began to incorporate a gritty urban aesthetic to the world’s most fashion-forward catwalks with zip-hoodies and pullover hoodies in practically every color of the rainbow. It was something that cemented the hoodie’s position as a wardrobe staple for both men and women.
Come the 1990s, the term “hooded sweatshirt” was finally contracted to the simpler and easier to say “hoodie” as the garment had become one of the most common items in just about everyone’s closets.
21st Century: A Garment for Every Man
But even in the 21st Century, the hoodie has not been without controversy - and men’s hoodies have seen more than their fair share of trouble.
In the early 2000s, shopping malls in the United Kingdom prevented the entry of anyone wearing a hoodie onto their premises, citing a spate of robberies done by hoodie-wearing suspects. For his part, Conservative Party leader David Cameron decried the hoodie as a garment worn by criminals in a defensive capacity, prompting the mockery of the Labour Party who called for equality with the slogan “hug a hoodie.”
But perhaps the hoodie’s impact on popular culture and socio-economic norms can most keenly be seen and felt in the United States. In 2012, following the murder of Trayvon Martin by a community watchman in Florida, the African-American community and those supporting it made this humble garment a symbol of an ongoing, seemingly endless fight against injustice and racism.
In this case, it was because the killer claimed that, because the young man was wearing a hoodie, he was most probably a criminal on the run or a drug junkie looking for a fix. This wasn’t surprising given how crooks have worn hoodies to mask themselves. But this did not give the killer the license to kill someone just because of what they were wearing.
This humble sweatshirt became a garment of protest. Professional basketball players like LeBron James and his then-teammates with the Miami Heat flouted the NBA’s rule against wearing hoodies to support the cause. Over a million hooded people of various races and walks of life took to the streets as part of the Million Hoodie March.
But socio-political ideologies aside, the hoodie has certainly come a long way from its humble beginnings. Indeed, it remains the garment of choice of celebrities and regular folk. A-listers wear something stylish and comfortable to the red carpet or a performance. Likewise, regular people find it a great way of staying warm on all but the heaviest winter days.
In fact, even in tropical countries, everyone seems to own a hoodie, and there are a number of styles to suit various personalities and ways of life. Indeed, the classic hoodie with its kangaroo pocket continues to be a great favorite of both professional athletes and those who have developed the habit of working out regularly.
Zip-type hoodies, a cross between a hooded sweatshirt and a light jacket, are just the thing to top off a layered look for the fall or winter. All things considered, men’s hoodies have become part and parcel of the fashion landscape - and they are certainly here to stay.
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