Hip hop's culture of violence makes protective clothing chic

By Evan Serpick
Updated May 22, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Ilanit Levy: Geremy Feldman/AP/Wide World

As it turned out, Miss Israel, Ilanit Levy, decided to shuck the diamond studded bulletproof vest / evening gown combo designed for her by Galit Levi for May 11’s Miss Universe pageant.

Still, that hasn’t made the vests any less in vogue with hip hop stars like DMX, Jay-Z, and Ja Rule. The high security fashion may have started with Tupac Shakur, who often sported a bulletproof vest (though clearly it didn’t help when it mattered — he was reportedly wearing it when he was gunned down in 1996).

Now designer labels like Antonio Ansaldi and Maurice Malone are selling lookalikes: They offer a sharp appearance, but no protection from sharpshooters. And since the California legislature banned the wearing of real vests by convicted felons — perennial arrestee ODB was the first person collared under the statute — the faux coats could come in handy.

Anslem Samuel, culture editor for hip hop magazine The Source, says rappers wear the vests both as a fashion statement and to convey street credibility. ”It’s not as dangerous as carrying a gun, but still implies that you’re living a dangerous lifestyle,” he says. ”Hip hop has an energy that takes abstract things and makes them the next cool thing.”