It is an item that you can buy at Sainsburyâ€™s and Next, but the hooded top is still somehow a sartorial conduit for state of the world conversations.
In recent months, weâ€™ve had Sienna Miller defying tabloid Brexit sensibilities in her pro-European hoodie, a Canadian politician thrown out of parliament for wearing one and TimothÃ©e Chalamet challenging gender by sporting a bedazzling one on the red carpet.
In all these cases, the clothing has done the talking. Although comparable to the black leather jacket or the burqa, itâ€™s hard to think of another garment that has existed as a wardrobe staple, streetwear trailblazer and ticking political timebomb all at the same time.
A new exhibition, The Hoodie, which is showing at Rotterdamâ€™s Het Nieuwe Instituut, attempts to unravel the garmentâ€™s colourful history. As befits such a complicated item, the multimedia exhibit features more than 60 hoodies as well as magazines, music and films. Artworks include Devan Shimoyamaâ€™s February II, a hoodie rendered in soft pastel shades of flowers as a tribute to Trayvon Martin, who was shot wearing a hoodie in 2012.
Although the â€œfirstâ€ hooded garment dates back to the 12th century, the exhibition looks at its journey from uniform of blue-collar workers in the 1930s to sport-leisure item in the 70s to its multiple-hyphenate use today. The hoodie, we learn, is reflective of the time and the person wearing it.
â€œThe hoodie itself has no real meaning,â€ says Amirah Mercer, founder of Other Suns, a platform for the black fashion community, â€œwhich makes it an easy garment to sell, because multimillion-dollar fashion brands can imbue it with any sentiment they like. But the hoodie is usually a very personal garment for the wearer. Itâ€™s a reflection of a personâ€™s inner life.â€
Or a political interest. In the UK under Margaret Thatcher, the hoodie became part of the â€œworking-class uniformâ€, a scapegoat made of cotton.
â€œI grew up in Bedford and I remember there was a real period of agitation and moral panic around the hoodie,â€ says the exhibitionâ€™s curator Lou Stoppard. The hoodie had come to signify our collective fears. Bluewater shopping mall banned them in 2005 and David Cameronâ€™s â€œhug a hoodieâ€ speech came out a year later. This year has been bookended by David Lammyâ€™s campaign to break the stigma around black men in hoodies and news of a black teenager in Essex being arrested for wearing one. Not to mention the fact that the braying mob in one of the yearâ€™s most contentious films, The Joker, all sport the garment.
â€œAnything thatâ€™s worn by young people; subcultural groups like graffiti artists, hip-hop artists, skateboarders is agitated around,â€ says Stoppard.
In the US, the hoodie became associated with a racist stereotype of criminality in black communities and a device for racial profiling, peaking with the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012. â€œThereâ€™s an odd thing with the hoodie in the difference between the intention of the wearer and the response of the viewer who sees it being worn,â€ says Stoppard. â€œThe person wearing it usually has normal intentions like â€˜Iâ€™m wearing it because itâ€™s comfy,â€™ but the viewer can add associations of threat and deviancy to it.â€
Claudia Rankine featured David Hammonsâ€™ artwork In the Hood (showing the haunting severed top of a hoodie) on the cover of her seminal book of poetry from 2014, Citizen. I ask her if she thinks anything has changed around black communitiesâ€™ association with the garment since Martinâ€™s death. She doesnâ€™t think so. â€œRacial profiling continues,â€ she says. â€œPeople might be more prone to understand how it works and how hoodies are read, but understanding does not automatically marry itself to change or prevention.â€
Mercer points to a bright moment of rehabilitation for the garment: BeyoncÃ© wearing yellow and fuschia custom Balmain hoodies at last yearâ€™s Coachella. â€œTo wear something negatively stereotyped against black youth reminded us to reclaim the hoodie in our community as a garment of self-expression,â€ she says.