Change Clothes

Jay-Z's anything-but-static style provides inspiration to keep developing your look

The evolution of Jay-Zs style

Words: James Nash | Illustrations: Eva Faerch

Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z, has built himself an empire through hard work and talent. His business prowess is notorious, his lyrical ability lauded and his latest album just went platinum in less than a week.

However, he wasn’t always the man he is now. A New York native, any fan of his music can tell you he started off where so many young black men in America are forced to, hustling drugs on street corners. Yet, from selling dope to becoming friends with the 44th President of the United States, his evolution has told an inspiring story of success.

A success that can be traced through his ever-changing style.


The evolution of Jay-Zs style

It begins in the 80s, in Brooklyn, with a young Jay-Z rocking a faded hi-top haircut and some fat gold chains. A far cry from the man he would become, this boy merely emulated the fashion surrounding him, an expression of the street culture into which he was so deeply ingrained. The very same culture which he would rap about in Reasonable Doubt, his first album. Never mind, “a crisp pair of jeans, n***a, button-ups,” this Hov of old was rocking loose-fits and Timberland boots, a style as much a part of New York culture as he would become. One in something of a resurgence, with high fashion designers like Raf Simons and even local labels all looking to oversized fits as inspiration.


The evolution of Jay-Zs style

As he swiftly gained attention and acclaim, Shawn himself began to change to suit his new lifestyle.

Here was a newly minted musical success – with ambitions even greater.

Chains got bigger, and he could be caught rocking countless different basketball jerseys, regardless of team. Little did he know that in 2004 he’d become a part-owner of the Brooklyn Nets, the official team of his home borough.

With the 1999 foundation of Rocawear, Jay-Z and Damon Dash’s fashion label, it became clear that he had his eyes on more than just music. Almost exclusively rocking Rocawear, he served as a living advertisement for his own brand and with his astronomical uptick in popularity, it became no wonder that the label dominated the early 2000s.

As he famously said himself, “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man!”


The evolution of Jay-Zs style

Jay-Z once rapped “Many chicks wanna put Jigga’s fists in cuffs, divorce him and split his bucks,” on the iconic track 'Big Pimpin’.

Yet in the end, the king found his queen. A queen in her own right mind you, and together they would be worth over a billion dollars. Billion, with a B, like Beyonce. Soon to become a family man, there’s no reasonable doubt that it influenced him – and the way he dressed – profoundly.

His own tastes “matured”: you could now catch him in suits and scarves, and his friends surely influenced him too. Long time collaborator and now former best-friend Kanye can likely take credit for his brief obsession with leather, but all-black Jay-Z was something in and of itself. He once rapped, “Change clothes and go,” and his adaptable outlook on fashion has certainly served him well, although he only made the change to skinny jeans in 2012. The real shame is he might have to go back to baggy.


The evolution of Jay-Zs style

Perhaps the most iconic of all his many aesthetics was Jay-Z's love affair (not that one) with the New York Yankee baseball cap. As he raps on 'Empire State of Mind', “Made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can,” and he certainly might have, although it wouldn’t be the first nor only time his co-sign made something soar in popularity. From Tom Ford to Givenchy, he’s shown that his word is bond, and his taste in clothing is even better. Whether it’s all-black Hov with the chains or suit and tie Shawn Carter going about his business, know that the king of New York knows how to dress. 

We can all learn something from Jay-Z's ability to change his style to suit any setting, and from his inability to give up what matters to him. Despite his success, he’s stayed true to his roots while allowing himself to grow – as a man, as a musician, and as a style icon.

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