Pants on backward? Shirt too big? Kid culture is crossing over into couture


It's where street meets beach, and East Coast matches West Coast. It's a style embraced by diverse youth subcultures, with oversized clothing and quirky, cartoonish accessories.

Like the hippies or punk rockers before them, the kids that sport the look are sure to draw concerned stares from those not into the movement. Why do they wear their pants five sizes too large? And what's with those hats?

Where did the style come from, and what does it all mean?

The large look has been embraced -- and popularized -- by three distinct groups:

* Skateboarders: Along with the sport comes a functional and funky fashion. Details rapidly change, and the look is remarkably consistent among those who read skateboarding magazines or attend skate competitions.

* Hip-hoppers: Hip-hop grew out of the rap music movement. The style is concerned with pride in African heritage and whatever the hot rap bands of the moment are wearing.

* Ravers: Rave kids live to dance all night. The music of the movement is techno, a computerized sound that complements the computer graphics on many rave clothes.

The roots of the large look can be traced to the street. "It's coming from where rap music came from -- Compton, Calif., and Oakland on the West Coast and the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem on the East Coast. The whole thing started from the East Coast and moved to the West Coast," says Carl Jones, CEO of Cross Colours, one of the hottest hip-hop lines.

John Norwood Fisher of the Los Angeles-based funk-rock band Fishbone recalls seeing the large style on street hoodlums in the early '70s. "All the gangsters would buy their Levis extra large and send them to the dry cleaners so they'd stay blue. They'd buy their Dickies big so they would sag. Skaters started doing it in the mid-'80s."

Also influencing the development of the large look was surf wear of the late '60s and early '70s, with its casual printed T-shirts and baggy shorts. Brands like Hang Ten, OP and Jimmy Z often were worn at both the beaches and the skate parks. Stussy, a 10-year-old California street-wear company, is credited with completing the crossover.

"Stussy took a certain style of clothing like casual wear that was associated with the surf market and crossed over to other people that don't surf," says Rick Klotz, designer of the current hot line Fresh Jive.

"The oversized look came from the skate culture. It's a small fashion scene but it does spur a lot of ideas that hit the mainstream."

Those involved in the skateboard movement aren't surprised that the large style developed. "Skaters want to look like freaks," says Dallas skate park owner Jeff Phillips. "They set themselves aside from the general public."

The large look has already emerged from the pure skate-street scene to spawn a number of companies, including Fresh Jive, 26 Red, Anarchic Adjustment, Split and Rubber Soul that sell to both skaters and kids involved in the rave club movement.

Hip-hop rules the airwaves, and rappers wear Cross Colours or their own company's clothing, such as Chuck D of Public Enemy's Rapp Style. Calvin Klein recently sent models down the runway sporting the oversized look worn backward, Kriss Kross style.

Reports from the Paris runways say Jean-Paul Gaultier has incorporated the bigger-is-better motif for his current spring collection.

It's obvious why designers leap on the street wear bandwagon -- after all, they do have to come up with two full collections a year without copying each other. But for the kids the reasons for living large are a little different. Although they're following fashion, kids say there is a practicality to what they wear.

While the disparate groups of trend-setters wear a similar style, there are distinctions.

Skaters wear shorts as big as they can get them, paired with T-shirts in earth tones and rope belts. The only underwear for a skater is boxers, worn peeking out of shorts. Mid-top sneakers with cutoff rubber soles are the footwear of choice, and baseball caps top off typical skate ensembles. Big brands include Blind and New Deal.

Ravers wear bright colors and cartoony accessories, including cat-in-the-hat-style chapeaus and knit hats with gloves sprouting from the top.

Brand names are displayed everywhere on their clothing. There is a heavy influence of Japanese cartoons and the comic adaptation of well-known logos like Coke, Tide, Wrigley's and 7-Eleven.

Hip-hop is more commercial, with wearers drawing inspirations from what they see on MTV. New York lines such as GFS-Not From Concentrate are worn by bands like the Beastie Boys and " Big Audio Dynamite. Cross Colours is the hottest hip-hop company, with the four colors of African heritage -- red, black, green and gold -- worn with baseball caps and beaded jewelry.

Among the three subcultures, there is a certain amount of crossover. Kids of different groups wouldn't be caught dead in some of the styles others swear by. However, there are brands, like Dickies, that can be found easily at a skate park, a rave party or a hip-hop club.

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