The Hoodie: A history full of rebellion, controversy and tragedy

SANVT Journal

Not many garments have traversed as many fashion trends as the hoodie (a.k.a the hooded sweatshirt). However, the meaning and status of hoodies has constantly changed and been re-invented. Today you can see the hoodie on almost everybody, regardless of country or social background.Here, we give a short summary of the history of the hoodie:

  • 12th century: the first garments with a hood
  • 1930s/40s: sweatshirt innovations
  • 1960s: hoodie as collegiate fashion
  • 1970s: the rise of the hoodie (helped by Rocky)
  • 1990s: hoodies become commercial
  • 2012: the controversy continues
  • Nowadays: a versatile everyday classic.

12th century: the first garments with a hood

The first popular appearance of the hood as part of garments dates back to the European Middle Ages. In those days monks wore hooded tunics (also known as “cowls”) and workers who worked outside used hoods attached to their capes to protect themselves from rain and snow (these were commonly called “chaperons”). In those days, the sole purpose of the actual hood was to protect against harsh weather conditions and had to be as simple as possible. By the way, the term “hood” derives from the Anglo-Saxon word “höd”, which has the same origin as the English word “hat”.

Monks wearing “hooded” garments

1930s/1940s: sweatshirt innovations

Before the hoodie evolved to the form we know and wear today, sweatshirts were the usual sports and outdoor workwear. The US brand Champion pioneered the production of sweatshirts after developing a process that allowed the use of thicker materials such as French Terry cotton. Then, in 1930, Champion sewed the first hood onto a sweatshirt to keep workers in upstate New York warm, thus also pioneering the hoodie. In the years that followed, Champion and Russell Athletic also supplied the US and English military with sports kits including hoodies for training exercises and leisure wear.

The Hoodie in action in London, Piccadilly Circus

1960s: hoodie as collegiate fashion

Starting in the 1960s, universities started to print their names and logos on hoodies in the 60s and 70s. This phenomenon is still widespread today for both sweatshirts and hoodies: especially in the USA but also all over the world. This was an important part of the hoodie’s history, helping to popularise the hoodie to an international audience.

1968: members of the New York Jets © Dan Farrell / Getty Images

1970s: the rise of the hoodie

As New York hip-hop culture became more and more popular globally, the hoodie also became increasingly popular. Initially, graffiti artists, in particular, wore the hood to hide their identity from the police while illegally tagging public buildings or the New York subway. It is said that even today some sprayers still choose their hoodies according to the size of their hood. Since the hoodie was also often worn by petty criminals for similar reasons in the early 1970s, it had (and to some extent still has) a somewhat negative connotation. But, when the cult film Rocky came out in 1976, the hooded sweatshirt finally gained some iconic status. The main actor Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone,) wears a grey hoodie in most training scenes, as he fights his way up from amateur boxer to heavyweight champion of the world.

Silvester Stallone “Rocky” wearing a hoodie during a training session

1990s: hoodies become commercial

After hip-hop gained not only cultural but also economic success, the hoodie was finally included in sportswear collections of major fashion houses such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. The rather negative connotation of being close to crime (and graffiti) rapidly became a positive, cool and urban association. However, the slightly negative connotations still continued at least until the early 2000s. One example is the “Hoodie Ban” from 2005 when the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent (UK) banned its visitors from wearing hoodies (paradoxically, the shopping centre itself continued to sell hoodies the whole time). Notably, in the course of the ban, the term “hoodie” was officially used; previously, the hoodie was mainly referred to in official discourse and statements as a “hooded sweatshirt”.

2012: Trayvon Martin and the ‘million hoodie march’

For all the wrong reasons, the media attention again focused on the hoodie in 2012, when Trayvon Benjamin Martin was killed by George Zimmerman at the age of 17 years by a firearm. On the evening of February 26, the teenager of African-American descent was on his own on his way back to his father’s fiancée’s house in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, a member of the community watch, saw Martin and reported him to the police as a suspect. A few moments later, an argument broke out and Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in the chest.

Zimmerman was injured during the encounter and claimed to have acted in self-defence, which is why he was initially not charged with any crime. Police said there was no evidence to refute his claim of self-defense and Florida’s “stand your ground” laws didn’t allow the police to make an arrest or even file any kind of criminal charges. After the national and international media took up the incident, Zimmerman was finally put on trial: however, in the end the jury found him not guilty of manslaughter and 2nd degree murder in July 2013.

Graffiti art in memory of Trayvon Martin

After Martin’s death, rallies, marches and protests took place throughout the United States. This was followed by a national debate on racist profiling and “stand your ground” laws. One of the larger rallies, the so-called “Million Hoodie March”, inspired by Trayvon’s style of dress, took place on March 21 in Union Square in Manhattan, New York City. People wore hoodies to symbolise their support for Martin and against the profiling used against non-white teenagers in hoodies.

Scene from the ‘million hoodie march’ in New York City

Nowadays: a versatile everyday classic

Nowadays. the fashion world wouldn’t be the same without the iconic hoodie, which is no longer worn as a purely rebellious piece of clothing that embodies the hip-hop culture of the 70s and 80s. Instead, you can see the hooded sweater worn across all age groups and social classes. It’s now a versatile garment that can even look somewhat sophisticated and urbane if worn in a certain way. Nevertheless, the death of Trayvon Martin emphasises how relevant and intense the long history of the hoodie has been, and still is, today.

Check out the sustainably produced hoodie from SANVT.