Reviewed & updated: October 19, 2022 by Jamie Wilson BA
While grime fashion has adapted itself over the years, the real staples still shine through. Nike are still providing grime artists with their chosen footwear, while New Era caps and Puma tracksuits are still as popular as ever. Here are our picks of the top statement wardrobe pieces worn by UK grime artists over the years.
Nowadays grime artists have slightly adapted how they dress. Krept and Konan wear BAPE, Boy Better Know have their own clothing line and even Gucci is slowly become a grime fashion and culture staple. Yet still the original pieces that were worn back when Dizzee Rascal first surfaced are worn now and many are defiant that these are the holy grail of grime fashion.
Remember when Skepta rapped ‘yeah, I used to wear Gucci I put it all in the bin ’cause that’s not me’? Early grime wasn’t about the excess and the uniform of grime artists was very much what you could get your hands on. Whereas garage depended on flash items and expensive taste, grime focused more on the streets and the trials and tribulations of street life. Certified pieces were from brands like Nike, rather than high end as they are slowly becoming today.
What Is Grime?
Grime emerged in the early 2000s in London and developed out of already popular music genres garage and jungle. Rapping is significant and it initially surfaced on pirate radio stations and underground. Due to its controversial topics, mostly focusing on London life, politics and drugs, grime has often been given a bad name.
Original grime artists like Dizzee Rascal, Lethal Bizzle, Kano, Lethal Bizzle and Wiley are said to be the founding fathers, and most certainly those who brough it into the mainstream. Since 2010 grime has seen a resurgence in popularity, with artists such as Skepta, Stormzy, Giggs and JME bringing grime to the mainstream. Grime groups such as Ruff Squad, Roll Deep, Newham Generals and Boy Better Know are still prominent to this day.
Key Grime Fashion Staples
Nike Air Max
A documentary titled ‘Air Max – The Uniform’ explores why the Air Max trainer is so popular with grime artists, both back in the early 2000s and now. Skepta, who has been prominent across both waves of grime, is one of the artists depicted as being drawn to the Nike Air Max. While grime is the soundtrack to London, the Air Max is most certainly its uniform. Today Novelist and Skepta lead the way in championing Nike Air Max trainers.
Way back when grime was emerging, Nike Air Max ’95s were nicknamed ‘110s’ because of their high price-point of £110. Roll Deep member Trim even rapped “I wear Nike from the foot up, max no push-ups”. UK Grime star Chip featured the ‘Jungle’ Air Max 95’s on the cover for his ‘Grime vs Rap’ mixtape.
Nike Air Max TNs (or the Air Max Plus as they’re properly called) are also a popular choice with grime artists, with Skepta even wearing a pair on the cover of Fader. These were nicknamed ‘125s’ due to their higher price-point of £125 and because of this if you wore a pair you tended to have a higher status on the streets.
They’re engraved on grime culture and were built on an extension of the Air Max 95 and 98 models. Essentially a running shoe, it garnered so much popularity that people as far as Paris and then Australia were wearing them. The ‘OG Hyper Blue’ and ‘Orange Tiger’ colour ways still stand as some of the best and most popular to date.
It’s safe to say that the tracksuit is the ultimate uniform of the grime artist. On the cover of Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner, the original grime artist donned a black all-in-one tracksuit, which he teamed with a pair of Nike Air Max. The tracksuit is a certified and necessary piece of clothing for any grime artist.
Remember when Skepta rapped ‘yeah, I used to wear Gucci I put it all in the bin ’cause that’s not me’? Early grime wasn’t about the excess and The grime god is one of the leading members of the ‘tracksuit mafia’ and even wore one to fashion week. In his track ‘Shutdown’ he spits ‘Fashion week and it’s shutdown, went to the show sitting in the front row, in the black tracksuit and it’s shutdown’. Skepta is praised as one of the leading figures in bringing the tracksuit to the foreground and taking it away from its roots of violence and council estates.
For Spring/Summer 2015 he was even seen walking for Nasir Mazhar. The tracksuit was specifically created for Skepta during the London Fashion Week Men’s show, essentially cementing him as the father of the tracksuit. Skepta even accepted his MOBO in a Nike tracksuit in a celebration of grime’s early roots.
Krept and Konan are fans of the Puma tracksuit. Grime has come full circle and today artists are simply rehashing what was done in the early noughties.
Akademics tracksuits were popular back in the day. Akademik’s was one of the leaders in the game back then, but today it has largely dropped off and given way to Nike (although Nike was always one of the popular choices), Adidas and Puma.
Stormy is also a tracksuit fan, favouring the likes of Adidas, which he wore in his video for ‘Shut Up’. Michael Omari (aka Stormy) has admitted on many an occasion that ‘Usually I just fling a tracksuit on’. For the video he donned a bright red, head-to-toe Adidas one. The video itself is one of the most far-reaching videos of any grime artist. With ‘Shut Up’, Stormzy is the only unsigned UK artist to ever score a top 10 hit and te video has now been watched over 59m times on YouTube. The video was shot randomly in a park next to his home in London and epitomises the early underground and pirate ways of grime. Stormy’s Adidas jacket and jogger combo is now a symbol of the resurgence of the London grime scene.
Avirex jackets grew in popularity at the end of the garage era and crept into the early grime years. They were symbols of excess and were one of the most popular jackets on the OG grime scene. They were so popular that people were actually being robbed of their jackets.
Just like wearing a pair of Nike Air Max TNs was a sign of status, wearing an Avirex jacket was essentially a sign of how hard you were. It became so unsafe to wear one around east and south London that people were praised for their bravery. Avirex jackets were so popular that at the beginning of More Fire Crew’s ‘Oi’, you can hear the line “I saw that Lethal B boy the other day, boy’s got Avirex man, think’s he’s rough.” An Avirex jacket was a holdover from garage, but it quickly became a grime symbol and told people that you weren’t one to be messed with.
New Era Caps
New Era caps first surfaced during the Lord Of The Mics clashes, which saw the like of Jammer, Wiley and Kano compete, back in 2006. Chronic and Flirta D championed the New Era Lake Elsinore 59FIFTY and Skepta first wore one and created the hype in his video for ‘That’s Not Me’.
With the New Era 59FIFTY cap it wasn’t just about owning one, but it was largely about how you wore it. We’re sure you remember from when you were younger (New Era was one of the few early brands popular within grime circles to stretch into the mainstream and eventually taken up by indie, new rave and demo crews) that it was all about keeping the stickers on. Worn straight up with a the peak kept low so it covered your eyebrows and almost your eyes too, tags and the Hologram sticker were left on for as long as possible. Rumour had it that they lost value, but it was really about showing people you had certified New Era merchandise.
The combination of a tracksuit, cap, trainers and small messenger bag or ‘festival’ bag as they’re sometimes called has long been a standard uniform of anyone on the grime scene. Essentially it was goodbye to pockets and hello to the man bag. This was originally just somewhere to stash your Nokia 7600 (launched in 2003 – one of the early staples for a grime artist as it was video-enable and 3g ready) and your lyrics which back then were literally written on scraps of paper.
Today Skepta is heralded as one of the best-dressed musicians, as well as one of the top grime artists, and we thought we’d explore his fashion sense. Whether on stage or off he is the man who is setting and reproducing the trend that began all those year ago when he, Dizzee Rascal, Lethal sizzle and Wiley were starting out. Aforementioned he was hand-picked by Nasir Mazhar to bring a taste of grime to the London fashion scene, walking for him in a custom-made tracksuit during the Spring/Summer 2015 London Collections: Men (now London Fashion Week Men’s).
He is as far from being a new kid on the block as you can get, and so he is able to say that he is a grime OG and when it comes to outfits what he does goes. He and his Boy Better Know brothers have been in the game since the early 2000s and have seen it all.
If one thing is clear, Skepta is keen to denounce any ideas of materialism with regards to fashion. As mentioned above the Tottenham emcee rapped about throwing out all his Gucci because that’s not him on grime anthem ‘That’s Not Me’. Since he has stuck to his streetwear roots, opting for brands close to home and others like Supreme and Cav Empt. He has been placed on countless best-dressed lists (including GQ’s best-dressed men in the world) and remains true to his London roots.
Speaking to ID he said ‘I want the kids to see that maybe they should be aligning themselves not just with a price range, but the people who are designing for you.’ London-based streetwear label Cottweiler has managed to spearhead Skepta as a fan. Focusing on 90s and early 2000s club wear and sportswear, the brand is exactly the sort of gear that Skepta was wearing back in the day, if not at a higher price point. What it does though, is bring streetwear and more notably grime-infuenced fashion to the fore. He wore an all-white tracksuit on the cover of Fader’s 98th issue.
He is also close to Astrid Andersen, who like Cottweiler shows at London Fashion Week Men’s, and has frequently been seen in one of her tracksuits. When he was placed on GQ’s 50 best-dressed men list, Andersen said of the inclusion, ‘best-dressed should not just be about being able to buy the most expensive suit, but about influencing a culture and for understanding how to bring a strong personal sense of view across.’
If there’s one item that Skepta is championing, it is the bum-bag. Worn across the body as opposed to around the waist, the bum bag has become a symbol of grime fashion and more commonly of the ‘roadmap’ style. This has been a look Skepta has been sporting since he first started out and doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Grime Fashion Staples
- Tracksuits are the uniform for any grime artist. Skepta favours Nike, Cottweiler and Nasir Mazhar, while Krept and Konan go for Puma and Stormy wears Adidas.
- A New Era cap is still a key staple item for any grime artist.
- Messenger bags were popular back in the early 2000s and are back in fashion again thanks to Skepta and the Roll Deep clan.
- Back in the early grime years Avirex jackets were the symbol of strength and power.
- Nike Air Max are basically the only footwear grime artists will be seen in, with Air Max 95s and Air Max TNs the more popular choices.
On That Note
Grime fashion has essentially come full circle. What Dizzee Rascal, Kano, Wiley and Skepta wore back in the early 2000s emergence of grime is now being worn again by artists like JME, Jammer, Frenzy, Ghetts and Fresco. Think messenger bags small enough to just fit your phone, head-to-toe tracksuits and Nike Air Max trainers. As Ghetts spat ‘Grime ain’t dead, are you mad?’ and nor is the fashion that came with it back in 2002.