In early 90s Hip Hop the appropriation of over size gold accessories, gold cap teeth and high-end designer brands was intended to take a jab at high-class white society. At the time, it was the juxtaposition that created such a powerful message.
Nevertheless, the messages being communicated to “the rest of the world” and within the Hip Hop scene were different. For those outside of it, their dress code was a way of recognising what music they were into (and all the associations that went with that). For those within the scene, donning expensive items invoked a sense of status and pride. Not dissimilar is the ‘preppy look’. In it’s original sense, the term preppy is meant to represent a shallow, transparent group who are primarily concerned with extrinsic things; popularity, physical appearance and material possessions. Although it emerged in the 90s through Tommy Hilfiger’s hybrid mix of preppy and urban street styles, it has most recently been publicised by artists such as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams.
Chuck D of Public Enemy best summarized this employment of wealth as “Man, I work at McDonald’s, but in order for me to feel good about myself I got to get a gold chain in order to impress a sister.” This concept is not solely reserved to Hip Hop. Nowadays, I think looking better than we live is still routine but what is perhaps more valid within, say streetwear and sneaker culture is trying to impress another “brother” as opposed to a female. It illustrates that tension created when even within the same group an individual seeks to be part of it by buying into a brand but yet elevated from it by buying the one item that no one else can get hold of.
Are individuals seeking to differentiate themselves from mainstream society, or are they striving to be understood by their own subcultures? Probably a bit of both, but I’m guessing the people within subcultures don’t really care whether what they communicate is misread outside of their immediate surroundings. They would rather appeal to a smaller number of people who have the knowledge to understand where they are coming from. It is probably the most sound approach, because we can’t communicate a single message to everyone. So in short… sacrifice appeal to the mainstream and DON’T WATCH THE HATERS!