by John Russel Jones

Mark your calendars and turn up the volume on your radio, phone, stereo, boombox, or your listening device of choice: The Museum at FIT (MFIT) presents Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the birth of hip hop, opening February 8th, 2023 in New York City. The largest and most comprehensive exhibition to explore this revolutionary and influential style, this also marks the first time that the museum examines fashion exclusively through one musical genre. Over 100 garments and accessories capture the pivotal moments in hip hop fashion’s evolution, ranging from Kangol hats to custom Dapper Dan jackets and the Manolo Blahnik Okla Alta booties inspired by Timberland work boots. The exhibition is curated by Elena Romero, journalist and assistant professor of Marketing Communications at FIT, and Elizabeth Way, associate curator of costume at MFIT, whose previous exhibitions include Head to Toe (2021), Fabric in Fashion (2018), and Black Fashion Designers (2016).

“It was important for The Museum at FIT to organize this exhibition, because hip hop—the most influential music genre of our era—has had such a profound impact on the world of fashion,” notes Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator, MFIT. “Furthermore, hip hop fashion and music are cultural expressions of the African and Hispanic cultural diasporas, which MFIT seeks to amplify as part of our goal to expand the understanding of fashion.”

Visitors will see looks worn and made popular by artists Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, LL Cool J, Chuck D, Missy Elliot, Aaliyah, Khaled, Lil Nas X, and Cardi B, to name just a few. Fresh, Fly and Fabulous will also feature designs by 5001 Flavors, April Walker, Misa Hylton, Cross Colours, Karl Kani, Shirt King Phade of the Shirt Kings, FUBU, Rocawear, Wu Wear, Mecca USA, Baby Phat, Pelle Pelle, and Sean John, as well as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Versace.

Born in the Bronx in 1973, hip hop was the invention of Black and Brown youth who created an innovative style of music, dance, and visual art that spoke to their lifestyles. Within two decades, hip hop had spread beyond the borders of New York City to impact international culture. Fashion and style were, and are, a major part of hip hop’s appeal. Yet hip hop style is more multidimensional than many realize. Artists and fans have used fashion to embrace historic glamour, convey messages of Black pride and activism, and express their individuality and unapologetic style. These fashions include the Adidas sneakers, tracksuits, and shearling coats popularized by Run DMC; the Karl Kani clothing worn by Tupac Shakur; and Aaliyah’s iconic Tommy Hilfiger bandeau and jeans ensemble, as well as other designer looks worn by Lil’ Kim, Cardi B, and Lil Nas X.

Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style begins with an examination of the early club venues where hip hop styles were showcased and the media—record companies, television shows, and films—that utilized fashion as a vehicle to promote hip hop artists and ideas. Sections such as The Designer Dreams, High Fashion Does Hip Hop, Collaborations, and Hip Hop in High Fashion explore the genre’s evolving relationship with established designer brands, such as Jordache, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci, and examine how significant custom designers, such as Dapper Dan and 5001 Flavors, made hip hop style unique. Fashion was a popular way for hip hop entrepreneurs and artists to extend their musical personas, and many—including the creators of FUBU and Sean Combs—launched their own fashion lines, which grew to become influential American brands. The Sports Influence and Pink sections are dedicated to inspirational sources for hip hop style, and other sections look at the specific ways hip hop has influenced fashion categories, including denim, outerwear, and formalwear. The exhibition concludes with a Celebrity Style section that examines the personal and stage style of trendsetting artists and a Hip Hop Glam section that illustrates the worldwide impact of hip hop artists as red carpet fashion icons in the 21st century.

Concurrent with the exhibition, The Museum at FIT will launch a new, digital guide on Bloomberg Connects, the free arts and cultural app created by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Available for download from Google Play or the App Store, Bloomberg Connects will make The Museum at FIT accessible for both in-person and virtual visits. Users can engage with the guide to help plan museum visits, gain access to exclusive MFIT content, explore exhibitions, and learn more about Fashion Culture programs. Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous will be the first exhibition featured in the MFIT guide, including exclusive interviews with hip hop experts.

The Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: 50 Years of Hip Hop Style exhibition will be accompanied by a book of the same title(Rizzoli, 2023) with a foreword written by Slick Rick, and a symposium on February 24 that will be free and open to the public.

Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the Couture Council of The Museum at FIT and The Coby Foundation. Special thanks to Barrett Barrera Projects.

The museum is open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from noon to 8 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is free. All visitors are requested to review the latest safety guidelines and protocols. For more information and the latest MFIT updates, visit; register for the MFIT newsletter; and follow the museum on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

ABOVE: Photo by Gordon Cowie on Unsplash