History of the Hoodie

By Alternative
February 2, 2015



The hoodie has been a mainstay of fashion and utility for more than 80 years. From its humble beginnings in workwear and high school athletic programs to its emergence in haute and street fashion alike, the hoodie enjoys status as both staple and trend, making it a closet necessity no matter where you fall on the fashion spectrum.

One look at our line and it’s clear that Alternative holds the hoodie in highest regard, updating the classic silhouette with his and her tailored fits in the softest, sustainable fabrics.

"Take a look around and you’ll see artists, athletes, innovators and entrepreneurs all wearing our hoodies,” says Design and Creative Director Orondava Mumford. “The hoodie and basics like tees and sweats have achieved uniform-status for the modern creative. Hoodies even carry a revolutionary spirit and sigma that’s constantly under discussion in politics and culture. It’s a mainstay we’re honored to keep evolving into the future.” 

As tribute to this universal wardrobe warrior, here’s our look at key moments in hoodie history.

1920s-1930s: Invention

In the first decade of the 20th century, American clothing manufactures began experimenting with fabrics traditionally used for undergarments to create what we now know as the hoodie. Russell Athletics lays claim to the first sweatshirt, created from cotton jersey in 1920 to alleviate football players’ discomfort from sweating in wool jerseys. Champion Products, known then as the Knickerbocker Knitting Company, is widely credited as the creator of the first hooded sweatshirt, which was made to provide athletes and laborers, like cold-storage workers, added protection and warmth.

004a photo credit: TheVintageTraveler.wordpress.com

1970s: Hip hop and hard work

The ‘70s saw the hoodie’s transformation from innocuous piece of clothing to complicated cultural symbol. At the time, New York City was a hotbed of emerging street cultures, including hip hop. Graffiti artists, a foundational element of hip hop culture, found the hoodie useful for concealing their identities while they “bombed” walls and buildings, linking the garment to illicit activity and what was then perceived as a defiant subculture.

photo credit: Last.fm photo credit: Last.fm

In 1976, the release of the now classic film “Rocky” added another layer of symbolism to the hoodie. The title character’s iconic, non-descript hoodie became emblematic of his hard knocks, hard work ethic, reestablishing its connection to its working class roots and cementing its prominence in mainstream culture. (Our own namesake hoodie pays homage to this moment in hoodie history.)

photo credit: Thatfilmguy.net photo credit: Thatfilmguy.net

1980: High fashion takes notice

In 1980, fashion designer Norma Kamali created her celebrated Sweatshirt Collection, revolutionizing ready-to-wear trends and the fashion industry’s perception and use of everyday materials in high-end design.

photo credit: NY Times photo credit: NY Times

1990s: Prolific status

By the ‘90s, the hoodie’s duality as both trend and staple was well established. It’s during this era when the term hoodie becomes part of American vernacular, spurred in large part by hip hop’s rise into the mainstream and the popularity of urban fashion trends.

131105-enter-the-wu-tang-36-chambers photo credit: Spin Magazine

2012: Tech triumph and teen tragedy

2012 was a reminder that, as widespread and accepted as it’s become, the hoodie still carries a lot of baggage.

Mark Zuckerberg caused a stir when he chose to meet Wall Street investors wearing a hoodie in the months leading up to Facebook’s initial public offering. Whether seen as a statement or ploy, scrutiny about the hoodie and what it symbolizes were the subject of debate, with most concluding it had more to do with establishing an identity as a non-conformist than making a casual fashion statement.

1a1c0f31e5be658d48207c97e746bbf7_main photo credit: Toronto Standard

The same year, a teenager named Trayvon Martin was wearing a hoodie the night he was killed in Florida after being deemed “suspicious.” The tragic incident sparked a national dialogue surrounding perceptions about race, image, identity and class. The hoodie became a banner for supporters of Trayvon Martin, uniting those looking for justice for the life lost.

1343931842389.cached photo credit: The Daily Beast

To date, the hoodie’s enduring legacy and cultural significance is a story without an end. Whether looked at as utility garment, fashion trend or cultural symbol, one thing is clear: the hoodie, with all its virtues (and perceived vices), is here to stay.

Shop men's hoodies

Shop women's hoodies

Written by Rachel Maniago

Alternative is a tight-knit tribe of doers who work in sync to share stories, art, and a tedious focus on the impact we have on the clothing lifecycle. See what we have to say.

Related: Softness is Our Story

Join the conversation


Fabric first – eco-friendly clothing designed with purpose.