Chic & Cheap: The symbolic hoodie

The shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was killed last month while walking on a sidewalk wearing a hooded sweatshirt, has raised many questions of profiling based on race and clothing.

The hoodie, which has become a staple in many American closets, has come under scrutiny as gangster apparel. Now, it is a rallying point for protesters demanding further investigation into Martins death. How did this article of clothing come to symbolize suspicion?

According to the Washington Post, the history of the hoodie can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Monks wore a version that consisted of a long robe with a hooded top.

Hooded sweatshirts were first introduced to the U.S. in the 1930s by Champion sportswear and became popular among working-class men in the northeast to keep warm while working outside in the winter. Athletes later picked up on the trend as warm and comfortable attire to work out in. The hip-hop movement began emerging in the 70s, according to the New York Times, and adopted the hoodie as a symbol of rebellion.

This perception was reinforced in the 90s, as hip-hop developed into a widespread phenomenon and infiltrated pop culture. The hoodie represented younger generations dissociation with order and authority figures. Skaters, urban hipsters and many other subcultures embraced the hoodie as an emblem of their attitude.

Its functionality has helped propagate its darker associations with outcasts and criminals. The hood partially obscures its wearers face, making it ideal for criminal activities and a staple in movies and television shows depicting hooded delinquents.

However, the hoodie is constantly evolving and transcends these restricted stereotypes. The hoodie appeals to adults and adolescents, regardless of race or socio-economic background, because at its root is functionality.

Fashion designers Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren have used the hoodie as inspirations in their collections. Colleges and high schools emblazon hoodies with logos to promote school spirit. The comfortable outer garments appeal ranges from rapper 50 Cent to Prince Harry of Wales, making it an informal fashion staple across the globe.

Alysha Alston, a freshman majoring in pre-nursing, said she agrees with wearing it for functionality.

I just think when people wear it, they are either really cold or theyre just really comfortable.

Ryan Beigel, a freshman majoring in anthropology, said he associates hoodies with athletes, not criminals.

Usually athletic people wear hoodies, he said. I own a hoodie and a lot of people from this school and my high school wear hoodies that are athletes.

Martins tragic death has brought attention to the preconceived stereotypes that surround the hoodie and those who wear it. Can clothing have such strong symbolism that we should avoid certain pieces?

Today its the hoodie, but tomorrow it can be a type of shirt or pants. In the end its all just fabric. Submitting to stereotypes shouldnt be the resolution to the negative association of crime and hoodies. Rather, we should reject the ignorance of racial profiling.