As the head writer of the Uproxx Style section, I’ve spent a lot of time this holiday season thinking about who the greatest hip-hop and street style icon of the decade was. It seems all too easy to toss that accolade at some member of the Kardashian/Jenner familia. Whether you like it or not, the sisters have had a tremendous effect on modern womenswear, though they owe a lot to the black and brown fashionistas who pre-dated them. Then, of course, you have Yeezy and Travis — both of whom became accomplished designers over the past decade. Virgil Abloh is also technically part of the Kar-Jen-West extended universe and has been massively impactful on the scene.
To rise above the zeitgeist-juggernauts that are the Kardashian/Jenners, you’ve got to be Rihanna-level massive. Revolutionary in both ideas and implementation. And while Ms. Fenty is certainly a leading candidate for the throne, there’s only one person who can lay claim to that cross-cultural level of influence. A man whose voice is undeniable and reach seems to cross boundaries of gender, race, and sexual orientation. Harry Styles?
Nope. The biggest style icon of the decade was none other than George Louis Costanza.
To be clear, I don’t mean Jason Alexander, the actor who plays loveable Seinfeld fool George Costanza. I mean the character himself. In April 2010, GQ Magazine published a hundred or so word writeup of a Start & Finish ad titled, “George Costanza… Fashion Icon?” which highlighted the character’s love of flannel, layering, and vintage Yankees varsity jackets. Flash forward to 2019 and while we no longer use the term “hipster,” Costanza’s influence is greater than it’s ever been. Vintage Nike 90s silhouettes featuring an oversized swoosh? George copped those. Rocking a full Suede jumpsuit and abandoning convention in the name of comfort, a la “athleisure?” George was on that wave decades ago. Fanny packs? George did it and we wrongly made fun of him for it. Hell, oversized puffy jackets equipped with Gore-Tex — Costanza was all about those before most of us were even old enough to dress ourselves.
From the man who brought us the Summer of George, The 2010s shall evermore be known as the Decade of George. Join us as we dive into a few of Costanza’s best looks to see what we can learn from last decade’s most unlikely fashion icon.
“I would drape myself in velvet if it were socially acceptable.”
— George Costanza, Seinfeld Season 6, Episode 12 “The Labelmaker”
Where would athleisure be without George Costanza? A lover of comfort above all else, George rocked a full velvet suit back when it was something to scoff at. Besides Jay-Z and Diddy, few recognized the sweatsuit’s deserved place in casual dress. George’s fit is a little dated by this point, but some of streetwear’s best-dressed share George’s love of velvet, like A$AP Rocky, who famously rocked a Haider Ackermann red velvet ruched-sleeve bomber jacket. George loved velvet, Jerry laughed at him for it, but Costanza opened up the door and suffered the slings and arrows so that Rocky could rep the fabric as a wardrobe staple.
Not everyone needs a tracksuit, but you better believe everyone needs to own a bomber jacket. If Seinfeld was still on the air, Jerry would want a velvet bomber to go with his ruined suede one. If A$AP Rocky isn’t enough to convince you that velvet is dope, Miguel and Kanye have also rocked velvet bombers.
“It’s Gore-Tex. You know about Gore-Tex?”
— George Costanza, Seinfeld Season 5, Episode 13 “The Dinner Party”
Look at the way Elaine and Jerry are bullying George for, once again, being ahead of the game. Tech-forward fabrics made with a purpose — in this case, battling against the frigid cold of winter — are trendier than they’ve ever been in the streetwear scene. Gore-Tex fabrics were used in special releases from The North Face, Supreme, and Nike just this year alone, and we shouldn’t have to remind you just how big of a wardrobe staple the puffy coat currently is.
If you attended ComplexCon this year, it’s safe to say that you definitely have a puffer in your closet right now. I could pull up a picture of any streetwear collector, any current rapper as an example, but why do that when I can go big and pick Rihanna? I’d like to see Elaine and Jerry pull utter the insults they so callously threw at George within 100 feet of Rihanna. It wouldn’t happen. She’s f*cking Rihanna. If she says its dope, it’s dope. Case closed.
“Hey are you getting taller?”
–George Costanza in response to Elaine Benes, Seinfeld Season 9, Episode
A$AP Rocky, Rihanna, now let’s add Kanye West to the list of who George influenced. To be fair, Biggie was definitely rocking Timbos on the toes before Art Vandelay, but both 90’s geniuses are nodding to the same working-class New York tradition. What I’m trying to say here is, George was a streetwear icon well before any of the cast of Seinfeld could recognize what streetwear even was. Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer — they were just too white and corny to get what George was going for.
Workwear is currently heating up the streetwear scene all over again, with brands like Carhartt Wip and Engineered Garments enjoying more popularity than ever. Do we have George to thank for that? Probably not. But his looks are definitely a contributor to the workwear renaissance we enjoy today. Need proof? Rihanna and Kanye look like they’re about to walk the catwalk at a construction-themed fashion show in the video for 2015’s FourFiveSeconds in their denim and Tims ensemble. No shade to McCartney, but we would’ve swapped him out for Costanza in a second.
Are you exhausted yet?
— Me, right now
Seriously — because I can go all day. I don’t even have time to get into the fanny packs, the Nike Cortez sneakers, or the wire-rim glasses. So for the sake of saving you some time, I’m going to wrap this up now. I’ve given you Rocky, Rihanna, and Kanye, three of the decade’s most influential artists. If you need another to really drive the point home that modern streetwear owes everything to George Costanza, I don’t have a better example than Kendrick Lamar.
Yes, K-Dot — quite possibly the most important hip-hop artist of the modern age — owes a debt to Costanza too. What is it, you ask? Their shared love of plaid prints on flannel and tartan shirts.
Seriously, Kendrick seems to love plaid. I know this because I dug through the Getty photo archives looking for photos of just that and there were too many to choose from. For God’s sake, the dude wore a plaid shirt while sitting next to President Obama and Janelle Monae. You have to be f*cking hyped on plaid to pull that move. Similarly, George Costanza wears several plaid-patterned shirts per episode. You don’t need to look for them, put any episode of Seinfeld on and you’re likely to find George wearing a plaid shirt that Kendrick probably had an assistant buy at a vintage store 20 years later.
I leave you with a final picture of George Costanza in my favorite fit of his — a look he dubbed “Morning Mist.” Yes, George dresses for mood because he’s a boss. Some bags, a powder blue button-up, and a five-panel dad hat. It’s modern streetwear perfection. Just ask Chance the Rapper.
Yes, old Cant-Stand-Ya was the hip-hop style icon of the decade. And if Russian sable hats finally break big, he might just rule the 2020s too. Show me one member of the Friends cast who holds this much sway.