Free Stylin'
How Hip Hop Changed the Fashion Industry
by Elena Romero
April 2012, 242pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-38646-6
$65, £50, 57€, A90
eBook Available: 978-0-313-38647-3
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Fifteen years ago, the idea that music mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs could be considered a serious rival to Ralph Lauren was as laughable as the notion that Barack Obama could be president of the United States. But after Combs won the Menswear Designer of the Year award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in 2004, and his brand Sean John began selling exclusively to Macy’s in spring 2011, it’s now clear that hip hop fashion is no joke.

This book sources interviews with scholars, urban designers, music experts, financial analysts, retailers, and hip hop celebrities to chronicle the compelling story of how hip hop transformed the fashion world and exploded into a $3 billion clothing industry.

For years, designers and manufacturers took cues from the streets to enhance their clothing lines, but before the 1980s the urban consumer was never recognized as a viable demographic. In a push to appeal to young customers, the fashion industry began hiring and backing talented African American designers and entrepreneurs. This seemingly unconventional union made business sense: seasoned fashion executives brought proven track records, while aspiring designers provided street credibility and a fresh perspective on design. The end result: a multi-billion dollar industry.

This book traces the fascinating unfolding of hip hop fashion from its roots to the present day. It explores how hip hop transitioned from “the hood” to the runway; how race, ethnicity, and culture played into commercialism; how celebrities impacted the fashion industry; and what ultimately led major department stores to jump on the urban bandwagon. Utilizing the author’s journalistic lens and based upon interviews with urban fashion designers, entrepreneurs, fashion veterans, trend forecasters, and hip hop celebrities, each chapter is akin to an oral history that provides not just facts but also invaluable analysis and historical perspective.


  • A foreword by Daymond John, cofounder of FUBU, star of ABC's The Shark Tank, and author of The Display of Power and The Brand Within
  • A chronology of 20th-century fashion styles as well as urban fashion from the late 1970s to present
  • Many photographs of pioneering urban designers, hip hop fashion trends, hip hop celebrities, and more
  • A multicultural bibliography containing significant materials from the fields of history, music, culture, and fashion
Elena Romero teaches fashion journalism and a myriad of media courses as adjunct assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and adjunct lecturer at the City College of New York's Center for Worker Education, New York, NY. A fashion journalist with work published in DNR, WWD, Sportswear International, Latina, Vibe, and the New York Post, Romero holds a BA in journalism and mass communication and an MS in publishing from New York University.


"As a reporter, Elena Romero was the first to seriously cover the rise of hip-hop fashion. Now she's the first to tell the entire, epic story in Free Stylin'. They say that journalists write the rough draft of history. But Romero has written both the first and the last words." —Dan Charnas, author of The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop

Free Stylin’ is a masterpiece of hip hop history, capturing the essence of hip hop culture by chronicling, in rich and vivid detail, the remarkable untold story of urban fashion’s transformation into a multi-billion dollar moneymaker. It is the new standard for studies of hip hop and the generation of young people who made it a global phenomenon.”—Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Associate Professor of History, The Ohio State University; Author of Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama's Black Belt

"In reality hip-hop and fashion have forever been inextricably linked, so an in-print insider's view such as this one from Elena Romero is more than welcomed! Romero's experience and love of hip-hop make her that perfectly-situated someone necessary to the genuine telling of any story. Free Stylin' expertly fills many voids in the scholarship and is likely to start and re-start much discussion of an under-appreciated facet of hip-hop history." —Dr. Jared A. Ball is an associate professor of communication studies at Morgan State University and author of I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto

"An important addition to the field of hip-hop studies, Freestylin’, documents a previously untold but crucial chapter of hip-hop history. In the process, Elena Romero gives new meaning to our understanding of the hip-hop explosion as one of the major cultural shifts of our time."—Bakari Kitwana, author of The Hip-Hop Generation

"Elena Romero has chronicled one of the most exciting eras in the history of the global fashion industry. She takes us from the origins of Hip-Hop style in the streets, boroughs and clubs of New York to its dominance of the airways and runways of the world. From the 'Streets to the Suites', Free Stylin’ is a book that every member of the 'Rag Trade' should read – from the entry level account executive, to the chairman of the board, to retail buyers, sociologists, and certainly by students and instructors of apparel design. Not often does one get to witness the creation, rise and dominance of an entirely new cultural and economic phenomenon. All the playas are here: from Snoop Dogg to Fubu. In the last fifty years, only the rise of the computer and subsequently the Internet parallel the monumental impact of Hip-Hop on the global marketplace. Free Stylin’ is a major historical achievement and it is truly destined to be a Best Seller."—David Rice, Chairman & Founder, Organization of Black Designers, Headquarters: Washington, DC

"Free Stylin' vividly reminds me of the early 70's. I had just fallen madly in love with my first pair of converse high-tops (Chuck Taylor's) and the ever budding presence of a subculture. Stylin' and profiling would forever be our mantra and the occurrence and circumstances of that time-line would forever change our lives and the course of history."—DJ Disco Wiz , Hip-Hop Pioneer, Author of It's Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip-Hop's First Latino DJ

"Ms. Romero has written a definitive and well researched telling of the history of urban fashion, chronicling this facet of hip-hop's lucrative tenet, from the streets to the mainstream. This is a must read for students of fashion history and hip-hop curios interested in the documentation of the culture from someone that was there to witness it unfold." —Raquel Cepeda, Writer and Filmmaker

"Free Stylin’ remixes the tale of entrepreneurship, hip hop and style. It’s a story some of us in hip-hop are partly familiar with having gear become such an important part of our celeb personas. However, Free Stylin’ educates us all on the commercial history of hip-hop fashion. Romero gives credit where credit is due by telling the stories of fashion pioneers and their brands that would’ve otherwise gone untold. Free Stylin’ is hip hop history."—Pete Rock, Producer and Deejay
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.
Accept All Cookies | Decline.