It wasn’t long ago that “Hypebeast” was practically a slur. The term, which was mostly used by either streetwear veterans or total outsiders, originally mocked people who jumped onto the Supreme bandwagon or refused to crease their backdoored Air Jordan 1s.
Today, hypebeast culture isn’t just the face of a $180 billion industry, but its own meme genre — and those who were once the butt of the joke are now actively in on it. Streetwear memes are an exploding medium on Instagram, where industry devotees roast themselves and those around them. The popularity of these memes has a lot to do with the platform itself — social media made the streetwear community more diverse and visible than ever, resulting in a communal yet ultra-niche sense of humor.
One of the leading meme accounts is Deadstock Report, a satirical streetwear news feed similar to The Onion or Reductress. Since its launch in June 2018, Deadstock Report has amassed over 50,000 Instagram followers, thanks to its faux headlines that satirize the latest in streetwear. Some touch on pop culture and streetwear adjacent-news (“HEARTBREAKING: Travis & Kylie Split, How This Affects Resell on Travis Collabs”), while others send up extremely specific streetwear tropes (“New Netflix Horror Anthology Presents 3-Part Look Into Guy Who’s Still Wearing 350s in 2021”).
According to Sol Thompson, Deadstock Report’s editor in chief, streetwear’s evolution into the mainstream is responsible for its meme-ification. “Streetwear went from being just wearing Yeezys and Fear of God in 2015, to all these different subcultures, like gorpcore and workwear,” Thompson said, “but it's all under the streetwear umbrella. [Streetwear] has gotten big enough to have its own kind of comedy theme.”
In the three decades since it emerged from three distinct subcultures — New York hip hop, Los Angeles surf, and Tokyo nightlife — streetwear has branched into an entire ecosystem of different aesthetics. Social media cross-pollinated fashion influences from around the world, resulting in streetwear categories like “rickhead” that would be complete gibberish to a ‘90s Supreme customer. (If it’s gibberish to you right now, a rickhead is someone whose entire personality and wardrobe revolves around Rick Owens).
The streetwear community tends to take itself too seriously
Some of these style labels even enter the lingua franca through memes. As trends emerge, memes allow them to be easily identifiable through a “starter pack” of brands or even specific garments. There are the TikTok hypebaes wearing Air Jordan Mids (which elitist sneakerheads don’t consider a “real” Jordan, compared to the High model), Grailed resellers charging for used shopping bags, and Travis Scott fans trying to justify a chicken nugget body pillow. Deadstock Report coined “Retired Hypebeast” as one who’s evolved into brands like Noah or Aimé Leon Dore, while the “Instagram Explore hypebeast” leans towards varsity jackets and New Balance 550s.
The streetwear community tends to take itself too seriously — something that meme pages are simultaneously exploiting and reversing. Pretentiousness was somewhat of a defense mechanism in the early 2010s, when “hypebeast” was more of an eye-rolling insult than a respected luxury demographic. Now, the extreme exclusivity of hyped items, and cult-like communities around brands, maintains that unwelcoming aura. However, no longer overcompensating for a seat at the industry’s table, streetwear and the people within it are comfortable enough to poke fun at themselves.
While Deadstock Report and other meme pages serve biting comedy and spot-on references, simply taking streetwear concepts out of context is enough to reveal the comedy within them. Leaving the zip-ties around Off White x Nike shoelaces, or knowing to keep your sneakers’ shoebox in pristine condition, are unspoken markers of streetwear status — they are also objectively ridiculous. The headline “Local Badass Refreshes the Queue Page” is absurdly vague, yet instantly recognizable to anyone who’s taken an accidental L halfway through their online checkout process.
“It's fun to have a medium like DSR,” Thompson said. “It's completely satire, but you can still comment on things and provide an opinion, make people think about what's going on.”
Scrolling through Deadstock Report’s Instagram feed feels like tripping down a news feed of the past year, in the shoes of an algorithmically-created hypebeast. The account posts its faux headlines almost every day, and a majority of them reflect the real-life news cycle. “Hypebeast Sets Zoom Background to Kith NYC” reads a headline from April 2020, as the pandemic was just beginning. “MAGA Hats Spike in Resale Value, Now Considered Vintage” landed the morning after the 2020 election.
“Humor has always been a very good way to track history as a whole,” said Thompson, pointing out social media’s contribution to the accelerated news cycle. “[DSR] is sort of tracking the 24-hour news cycle of streetwear. Everybody is commenting, providing their opinion in their own way.” While the account is a running joke on streetwear culture, it’s also a living archive and dialogue of its evolution.
Social media has transformed fashion into a pillar of anyone’s personality and public perception. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram have replaced luxury runways as the source of most fashion trends — which makes users active participants, trendsetters, and commentators. This level of self-surveillance brings unprecedented power to the fashion consumer, and, in streetwear specifically, a crash course of subcultural knowledge.
Streetwear is infinitely more visible now than it was in the ‘90s. But while almost anyone can laugh at a Drake meme, and any fashion-savvy person would recognize the name Virgil Abloh, “venture capitalist gorpcore bro” is not exactly in the common lexicon. The most niche streetwear memes, while only legible to a fraction of the fashion masses, spark an instant connection among those who do get the joke. This is practically a reward, considering the dizzying complexity of modern streetwear — which, for better or worse, leaves people very emotionally invested.
“But now, you wear Jordans because they're a collab, and they cost $1,500 on StockX.”
“If you look back on '90s street culture, you wore Jordans because you liked Michael Jordan, right? But now, you wear Jordans because they're a collab, and they cost $1,500 on StockX, and to get them you tried to go through SKRS…” Thompson said. “You have to jump through so many more hoops, you have to know so much more. And because you know more, you understand more humor, you can get more jokes.”
More than any other fashion subgenre, streetwear isn’t just something you wear, but something you participate in. With something as culturally nuanced as streetwear, being a part of the community requires a real investment of time, money, and research. This is why so much industry knowledge is practically commonplace; knowing the difference between Dunk Highs and Air Jordan 1s, or Converse High Tops and Rick Owens Ramones, is more of a standard than a flex. As a result, “niche” memes like Deadstock Report’s land with thousands of people.
As streetwear’s cultural tapestry becomes more complex, memes are an unlikely medium (and meeting ground) for comic relief. A self-deprecating sense of humor is oddly humanizing for an industry fueled by exclusivity and gatekeeping — maybe because it reveals (and roasts) the true community underneath.