A Survey of Hoodies in Popular Culture

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The humble hoodie has been in the news over the last couple of months — largely because of its sad association with the tragic death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, but also this week because of a rather silly controversy about the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wore one to a meeting with prospective investors in New York. That particular hullabaloo led to an article in Forbes proposing a “hooded blazer” as a sort of trans-generational compromise on business attire. We’re not sure if this was serious or not — although by God we hope not — but either way, the whole thing got us thinking about hoodies in popular culture, and we thought we’d take a brief look at how the hooded sweatshirt has evolved from a simple and practical garment into something that apparently both the scourge of society and the thing for young CEOs to be seen in.

Rocky

Apparently hoodies were first conceived in the 1930s as clothing for construction workers in upstate New York, but a large part of their entrance into popular culture is down to one man — Sylvester Stallone, who is to hoodies what Pamela Anderson is to Ugg boots. Stallone’s famous dash up the Philadelphia Museum of Art in a hoodie is one of the most iconic cinematic scenes of the 1980s, and started a long association between hoodies and sporting/athletic types.

Donnie Darko

Donnie’s hoodie is surely the most iconic of the 2000s, and the scene where he flips up his hood and walks away from the burning remains of Jim Cunningham’s “kiddie porn dungeon” is one of the great cheer-along scenes in movie history (along with his denunciation of Cunningham as the “fucking Antichrist”.)

Emperor Palpatine

The idea of the hoodie evolved from the hooded robe, a garment that has some pretty sinister connotations, both in pop culture and in real life. We’ll stick firmly with the former (for now, at least), and pop culture’s foremost evil robe-wearer: the nefarious Emperor Palpatine, who spends most of the original Star Wars trilogy hunched into the folds of his cowl, espousing Sith philosophy and being generally unpleasant.

The Wu-Tang Clan

We’ve always had a soft spot for the hoodie that Raekwon wears in the video for “C.R.E.A.M”. Like the big heavy flannies sported by grunge bands in the early 1990s, what quickly developed into fashion started as something purely utilitarian — this video looks like it was shot in the middle of a New York winter, and it must have been freezing out there! There’s an argument to be made that the long association between hip hop and hoodies started right here.

Grimes

Of course, hoodies aren’t the exclusive preserve of pugilists and rappers these days. Take Grimes, who sports a rather ornate gold hoodie throughout her insanely successful video for “Oblivion” (and gets it flipped up unexpectedly over her head at about 0:20). The fashion hoodie, eh? Who’d have thought it?

Lady Gaga

And, of course, if there’s anyone who can be relied upon to take fashion to absurd lengths, it’s Gaga. Practical as ever, Stefani.

Mark Zuckerberg

From the streets to the boardroom in 20 years, eh? There’s more than a little incongruity in the fact that barely a month after conservative rabble-rousers were calling for the hoodie to be banned, the world’s most objectionably precocious CEO was deploying a hoodie as the piece de resistance in his hey-I’m-just-a-casual-guy act. We’re sure that Geraldo Rivera et al wouldn’t be objecting to Zuckerberg’s hoodie (except in the respect that they probably all think he should be wearing a suit and tie). And speaking of which…

Geraldo Rivera

Oops.

The London riots

The US isn’t the only country in which the hoodie has been controversial over the last couple of years. Across the Atlantic, it was intrinsically associated with the London riots, leading to debates in Parliament as to whether the garment should somehow be banned. Because, y’know, it’s perfectly sensible to blame a complex series of events with roots to be found deep in the nature of English society on an item of clothing. Sigh. There’s a good article about hoodies in the UK here, if you’re interested.

Trayvon Martin

And finally, this is essentially a light-hearted feature, but allow us to get serious for a moment — the death of Trayvon Martin was a one of the saddest and most genuinely tragic events of 2012. In the wake of his slaying, it was gratifying to see many, many people — both celebrities and ordinary people on the street — sporting hoodies, both as a gesture of solidarity and of opposition to profiling people on the basis of their appearance and/or garb. The latter point is expressed particularly succinctly in the above film, which does a fine job of expressing that underneath the hoods, we’re all just people.