Reddit user u/devastationz fell in love with streetwear for the same reason as countless guys his age — a Kanye West album.
It was 2013, a far less thorny period for West (who in 2021 legally changed his name to “Ye”), and in many ways, a simpler time for u/devastationz, who goes by Dev. He was graduating high school and had just started to develop his own taste in music and style.
Dev was struck by West’s Yeezus album, as well as the expensive sneakers, designer coats and leather pants that came with it. What’s more, he found an outlet for those interests — in a then-fledgling subreddit called “r/Streetwear.”
“I was browsing Reddit, clicking on the ‘random’ button, came across r/Streetwear and stuck around,” Dev told In The Know. “It was perfect timing for it to show up when it did.”
In the years since, Dev has watched r/Streetwear expand into a prominent, bustling community, with 3.2 million readers and posts that draw thousands of comments.
What’s more, the forum’s evolution has sidestepped some of the trappings and traditions found in more mainstream fashion communities, such as those on Instagram or TikTok. There are no influencers; no “professional” tastemakers to speak of. The posts aren’t aspirational, they’re attainable — outfits by regular, everyday people going about their regular, everyday lives.
CJ, an r/Streetwear user who, like Dev, is now one of the subreddit’s moderators (known colloquially as “mods”), told In The Know that, like Instagram, their community is focused on outfit photos. But the difference, CJ said, is in how users react to those photos.
“We try to taper down on negativity, so we like all criticism to be legitimately constructive,” he explained. “That’s the one way we’re a bit different from Instagram: Our community is much more supportive — whether they’re encouraging a poster to climb out of their shell or celebrating when they do.”
The result is an environment that r/Streetwear mods frequently refer to as “authentic” and “genuine.” Many posts are taken in users’ own apartments or utilize accessible outfits bought at Goodwill and similar thrift chains. Others are taken during deeply relatable activities — like going to the gas station, walking the dog or stopping at an ATM.
“Because it’s people taking pictures of their outfits, it forces you to be genuine,” Dev said. “It’s you, not your pet or a nature photo. It’s a picture of you, your body, your clothes and your style.
CJ said the subreddit’s atmosphere owes a lot to its own diversity, but also to the diversity of streetwear in general. The style traces its history back to the ’70s and ’80s, when even then it was an exciting, Frankensteinian mix of genres. Skateboarding, hip-hop culture, surf culture, sportswear and much more played roles in streetwear’s early iterations.
Thanks to the rise of hypebeast culture, with brands like Stüssy, Supreme and The Hundreds — and of course, the influence of celebrities like West — streetwear is now part of the mainstream. Still, it remains a vast and varied corner of the fashion world, which CJ said leaves plenty of room for experimentation.
“Outfits are like art — a form of personal expression and style,” CJ told In The Know. “‘Streetwear’ as a style is very broad. Streetwear in Japan is quite different from streetwear in Long Beach, so we encourage as much diversity as possible.”
Another r/Streetwear mod, u/zacheadams, said the forum’s authenticity comes from all levels. Mods do their best to encourage uplifting, supportive comments, which, in turn, creates a space where people feel comfortable sharing their style.
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“I believe everyone wants to see everyone else succeed,” he added.
It helps, the mods say, that support can come in many forms. Many of r/Streetwear’s users are new to high fashion, or they’re in the early stages of a career in design. And while outfit photos may dominate the forum’s homepage, users also post memes, discuss one another’s design ideas and participate in megathreads about the fashion industry at large.
Comparing social media interactions one-to-one is an impossible task, although there is a feeling — at least among the mods — that r/Streetwear is a uniquely safe space for self-expression. This distinction has only grown more crucial with the continuing flow of evidence that platforms like Instagram can have a detrimental impact on a user’s mental health, particularly among women and teenage girls.
In one 2019 study, researchers found that, among women aged 18 to 35, increased Instagram usage was correlated with depressive symptoms, self-esteem issues and anxiety over physical appearance. Other studies have shown that Instagram photos can negatively impact a person’s body image and increase their desire to have plastic surgery.
On r/Streetwear, empathy and positivity are common themes. However, its members are always striving for more.
“Compared to other [subreddits], we are better at giving one another advice,” another mod, who wished to remain anonymous, told In The Know, adding that they were “hoping that we mods can set up a plan to be able to improve the advice part going forward.”
Many of the mods In The Know spoke with acknowledged the difficulties of scaling a community like their own. As social platforms grow, the threat of toxicity looms. As u/zacheadams put it, the forum’s current size is already a “challenge” in itself.
“We’re also trying to do more in building people up and encouraging people to be more constructive in their comments,” he said. “It’s a lot of work to remove any negative content, but it’s crucial to fostering a better and more diverse environment.”
There’s also a sense among mods that growth is coming for them, whether they like it or not. The subreddit was founded in 2011, and since then, streetwear has only become a bigger fixture in Reddit’s cultural ecosystem.
“When it was a smaller community, you came to know people more and more,” Dev told In The Know. “You recognize names on posts, people post their own memes, and it generally has a bigger sense of community. [Now it] has become more of a ‘look at what I’m wearing today’ community. It’s not bad, just different. That’s just the nature of growing and gaining new members.”
But if the last 11 years are any indication, r/Streetwear may be built to weather the storm. Its same core principles — regular people, fire ‘fits, supportive comments — have brought it this far. For the forum’s mods at least, that seems like a good sign for the future.
“The long-term commitment of keeping the mutual interest in the culture alive and innovative [is what] makes this [subreddit] stand out,” the anonymous mod explained. “Moderators, veterans, newcomers are all welcome. I think everyone here wants to leave something good behind and hopefully be remembered for something.”
If you liked this story, check out our story on what it’s like to moderate Reddit’s “AITA” forum.
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