Surf fashion: Where did it go?

Almost since the sport’s inception (at least in its modern version) surf fashion has been more popular and widespread than surfing itself. This is not uncommon. More people wear Air Jordans and Yankees caps than play basketball or baseball. Besides, a pair of board shorts can be as practical and comfortable during summer in landlocked Kansas or Prague as on the beach in Bali.

A lot of surf fashion can’t be worn on the waves anyway, where shorts or a wetsuit are pretty much all you need. Comfy, colorful and practical clothing made by surfboard brands or whoever just seems to go with the lifestyle.

Bali, being a surfing Mecca, is also a center of surf fashion. From boutiques to photo shoots to fashion shows, in recent years surf culture – including surf fashion – has become a part of Bali’s identity. Whether it’s Australian arty surf fashion brands like Mambo, the female oriented Surfer Girl – which has shops in Bali as well as Australia and South Korea – or publications like I-Magazine Bali, surf fashion is well established on the island.

Yet if I go back to my skateboarding days in the mid 80s, when skate and surf fashion were essentially the same things, things were decidedly different. Brands like Jimmy’Z or Jams, while still in existence, aren’t so hot anymore. Vans shoes are still around and I guess Baja hoodies will always have a place. But while Rip Curl, Quiksilver and Billabong are still huge names; they are reportedly not selling so well. And what happened to Town & Country (T&C), Gotcha, Op and Maui & Sons? I guess that like the “big three” are doing now, those companies simply lost their “edge”.

From the Business of Fashion:

Quiksilver and Billabong now have a standardised approach to the product that they sell, particularly in terms of their clothing. Surfing culture, of course, has very strong counter-cultural roots. It has a particular way of looking at mainstream commercialism and it’s quite antithetical towards that. You’ve got a situation where a lot of surfers are starting to see brands they have followed for a long time move into Macy’s and other large department stores and it’s led to a backlash from the core consumer.

–Dr Andrew Warren, fashion author

I can relate: Once the trendy kids started to wear something, it just wasn’t cool anymore.

surf fashion

Vans – Not really for surfing, but still. Pic: Nikki Pirch (Flickr CC)

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