Who Invented the Hoodie and How Did It Become a Co-conspirator in the Death of a Teenager?

Hoodie (hooded sweatshirt)
Hoodie (hooded sweatshirt)

On Friday, March 23 2012, Geraldo Rivera commented on the television program, “Fox and Friends,” on the Sanford, Florida shooting of Trayvon Martin by the neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman. Rivera said, “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” Rivera has since apologized for his remarks. Nonetheless, it got me thinking. If the hooded sweatshirt, which we have been calling a hoodie since the 1990s, should also bear the responsibility for the demise of this 17-year old African-American young man, then the person or persons who invented it should also be responsible.

According to Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, the creation of the hoodie was inspired by the headgear of European Medieval monks. Then early in the 20th century, the Champion brand began making hooded sweatshirts for upstate New York workers to keep them warm in cold weather. When Hip hop arrived in the 1970s with its urban street-image, performers began wearing hoodies to add the air of mystery and intimidation. Considering their bad boy or gangster persona, concocted or otherwise, their fashion-sense impacted fans and the hooded sweatshirt became the perfect addition to the wardrobe of males, especially those favoring criminal activity.

Criminals, however, did not totally hijack this article of clothing as some would have us believe. Others like me saw the benefits of wearing one. It not only kept our heads warm in cool seasons, it also protected us from precipitation, and was loose and comfortable enough for physical activity. Designers such as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Christian Audigier, and Element caught on in the 1990s and beyond and began creating hoodies at various price points in all styles, colors, and sizes.

Hoodies were being made for men, women, teens, toddlers, sororities, fraternities, universities, celebrities, sports, casual, and designer wear. The garment became a fashion staple. It globally interjected every form of art and culture. And yes, the segment of society marketed to is the youth. Designers promote the hooded sweatshirt as trendy and providing a feeling of confidence. It is the perfect marketing ploy, considering the niche.

So it is not uncommon for a hoodie-clad teenager, regardless of ethnicity, to go to the store to purchase Skittles and iced tea. Nor does it make him or her someone with criminal intent. Unfortunately, some of us process that scenario in the following manner: Hip hop equals African-American equals teen male equals hoodie equals felon. Hmm. Personally, I blame those European Medieval monks.

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