How Jay Z’s ‘Change Clothes’ Is Still Influencing Style Ten Years Later

Photo: Roc-A-Fella Records/Gif: Jenny Shafei

How’s this for a Monday morning bombshell? It’s been ten years since the release of Jay-Z’s “Change Clothes” track featuring Pharrell Williams. Ten years!! And while the music video didn’t exactly tell an accurate story of how time would unfold after its debut—it opens with Jay walking into what’s meant to be his retirement party, though, spoiler alert: he released Kingdom Come just three years later—”Change Clothes” did have a strong and lasting influence on hip-hop style.

Photo: Roc-A-Fella Records/Gif: Jenny Shafei

Before “Change Clothes,” Young Hov’ was best known for pairing oversized athletic wear with gobs of ice, baggy jeans, and either Timbs or Jordans. Alongside Jay’s rise to superstardom with The Blueprint and The Blueprint 2, the look caught widespread popularity and became the definition of hip-hop style in the late ’90s and early aughts. While the Pharrell-sung hook—”Change clothes and go”—is intended for a female listener (whichever lucky girl Pharrell’s ageless babyface is trying to take home), the song takes on double-meaning as a call-to-action, urging the hip-hop community to “change clothes” and step up its fashion game.

Photo: Roc-A-Fella Records/Gif: Jenny Shafei

A song this charged with fashion directive, demands an unimpeachably chic music video, and Jay spared no expense (or guest appearance) to get his point across. The “Change Clothes” video was directed by Chris Robinson, styled by June Ambrose, and featured cameos from Mos Def, Mary J. Blige, Kelly Ripa and her husband Mark Consuelos, both Russell and Kimora Lee Simmons, and a slew of models—Jessica White, Liliana Dominguez, America’s Next Top Model’s Jade Cole, Omahyra Mota, ex-Danity Kane girl D. Woods, and of course, the crown jewel Naomi Campbell. Sexy sexy.

Photo: Roc-A-Fella Records/Gif: Jenny Shafei

The real clincher to Jay’s argument comes through his lyrics, two-thirds into his second verse: dudes should bone up on their fashion because it’s a great way to impress girls.

Do I, to you, look like a lame
Who don’t understand a broad with a mean shoe game
Who’s up on dot dot dot and Vera Wang
Ma, are you insane?

Yep. That’s Jay on one of his intended swan songs, nabbing up more female fans just because he can. “Oh, you’re down for my unseemly collection of footwear? And you’re dating Beyonce?? Where do I sign up?!” said every lady within earshot circa 2003. Not to mention, the brands he chooses to rep on this track—Vera Wang and Three Dots (presuming RapGenius is right about that “dot dot dot” reference)—are pretty obscure weighed against the “Gucci, Gucci, Louis, Louis, Fendi, Fendi, Prada” mentions that dominated lyrics at the time.

Photo: Roc-A-Fella Records/Gif: Jenny Shafei

Yes, ladies and germs. Jay’s fashion IQ long predates his “Tom Ford” suit and tie s***. Before Kanye could say, “Pass that Ver-say-see,” Jay was redefining the clout of a designer namedrop: laundry listing would henceforth no longer be an acceptable way to prove your style cred; you need to really know fashion and be able to speak to a variety of designers. It’s a mentality that cut its teeth in the early aughts just following “Change Clothes” and has held strong through present day, perhaps best exemplified for the current decade by A$AP Rocky’s “Fashion Killa.” #anndemeulemeester

Photo: Roc-A-Fella Records/Gif: Jenny Shafei

If his knowledge of brands wasn’t enough to win you over, let Hov’ remind you that he’s also an industry insider:

Let’s go to my hotel, ’cause this don’t go well
With those S. Dots, gotta stay fresh, ma
Ma, I don’t shop where the resy buy
Ho no, ma, please respect my
Jiggy

He throws in a casual mention to his Reebok RBK S. Carter sneakers just as the fashion on the music video runway has transitioned from fluttering, feminine, high fashion to fur, puffer vests, and Rocawear jumpsuits.

Photo: Roc-A-Fella Records/Gif: Jenny Shafei

And then, the subtlety of Jay’s “Change Clothes” style commandment is thrown to the wind right as the song is about to end:

This is probably Purple Label
Or that BBC s*** or it’s probably tailored
And y’all n***** actin’ way too tough
Throw on a suit, get it tapered up, and let’s just

Ahh, yes. Purple Label. No, that’s not referring to a fancy tier of alcohol. That’s Ralph Lauren Purple Label. That’s Jay-Z telling the dudes of the world to hang up their “too tough” throwbacks, sagging pants, and fitted caps. That’s Jay-Z educating his fellow man on the benefits of a well-tailored suit. That’s the powder keg spark for a style overhaul.

Photo: Roc-A-Fella Records/Gif: Jenny Shafei

As you know now, it worked. Some might say it worked too well. As part of his The Tanning Effect video interview series, Steve Stoute said to Jay, “David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, came over to me and said, ’Steve, is it possible that you can tell Jay Z to change clothes back again?’ And what he was referring to was that you had made a song called ’Change Clothes,’ and there was a gigantic, seismic shift in sales for the NBA and NFL licensed apparel. You had that effect on their business. Did you know that that was gonna take place when you released that song?”

Photo: Roc-A-Fella Records/Gif: Jenny Shafei

Jay’s response? “I wasn’t really conscious of it,” Jigga explained. “It was really just more so how I felt at the time. It got to a point where everyone was walking around with these jerseys on, and we just looked like the biggest basketball team in the world. Like, OK, this thing is over now. You know? It was just my elevation and growth. You know, I’m always trying to move forward and move to the next thing. I didn’t have it in mind that ’I’m gonna say, “Change clothes.”’ I would’ve bought all the stock in button-up shirts if that was the case.”

Photo: Roc-A-Fella Records/Gif: Jenny Shafei

Well, regardless of whether it was a premeditated call for fashion uprising or not, Jay and “Change Clothes” profoundly altered hip-hop style, nudging it in the direction it’s snowballing for today, a full decade after its entrance into public consciousness. If not for Hov’s efforts in dude style, we may never have been able to enjoy Big Sean’s autumnal GQ editorial, A$AP Rocky’s DKNY campaign, or Drake’s Calvin Klein Canadian tuxedo, and for that, we’re SO thankful.

Photo: Roc-A-Fella Records/Gif: Jenny Shafei

+ WATCH JAY Z FT. PHARRELL WILLIAMS – ’CHANGE CLOTHES’

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