Surfer Style: A Guide to the Timeless Fashion

The Fashionisto

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Updated January 15, 2024

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Explore surfer style for men. Photo: FP

Surf brands have left an indelible mark on the fashion world, capturing the essence of the laid-back, adventurous surfer lifestyle. From Southern California to the shores of Australia, surf culture has inspired generations of designers, blending functionality with a sense of freedom and fun.

In this guide, we will explore the origins and evolution of surf fashion, the influence of surf culture on pop culture, and the top surf brands that have shaped the industry. Get ready to dive into the world of surfer style and discover what makes it a timeless and captivating trend.

The Roots of Surf Style & Culture

Surfing has a rich and ancient history, dating back thousands of years to the early Pre-Incan tribes and the Polynesian islands. The sport was not just a recreational pursuit but also a spiritual practice and a form of warrior training. Over time, surfing spread across the globe, attracting enthusiasts from all walks of life and giving birth to a unique and vibrant subculture.

The Rise of Surfing & Its Influence on Pop Culture

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The sixties saw a rise in surf culture heightened by Hollywood movies. Photo: iStock

In the 1950s and 1960s, surfing gained widespread popularity, partly thanks to the booming tourism industry in Hawaii, California, and Australia. Hollywood movies like Blue Hawaii featuring Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys’ iconic album Surfin’ Safari, and the acclaimed documentary The Endless Summer further fueled the public’s fascination with surfing and its carefree, sun-soaked lifestyle.

As a result, surf fashion started gaining traction, reflecting the surfer’s spirit in its simple, functional, and colorful designs. This newfound interest in surfer style soon permeated pop culture, inspiring movies, music, and high-fashion runways.

The Emergence of Surf Brands

The increasing demand for surf-inspired clothing led to the establishment of numerous big and small surf brands. These brands aimed to cater to the growing market of surf enthusiasts and those who wanted to incorporate the surfer look into their everyday wardrobe.

The Pioneers of Surf Fashion

Some of the earliest and most influential surf brands include O’Neill, Rip Curl, and Billabong. Their products were designed with surfers in mind, focusing on functionality, durability, and style. Over the years, these brands expanded their offerings to cater to a broader audience while staying true to their surfing roots.

O’Neill

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O’Neill is the quintessential surf brand if you’re looking for essentials. Photo: O’Neill

Founded in 1952 by Jack O’Neill, this iconic brand is associated with the popularity of the wetsuit. O’Neill’s innovations revolutionized the surfing world, allowing surfers to enjoy their favorite sport in colder waters and for extended periods. Today, O’Neill offers a wide range of surf wear and accessories, staying true to its commitment to quality and performance.

Rip Curl

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Look to Rip Curl for the ultimate board shorts. Photo: Rip Curl

Established in 1969 in Australia, Rip Curl started as a producer of surfboards before branching out to board shorts and wetsuits. The brand has since become synonymous with high-quality surf wear and is known for its innovative designs and commitment to sustainability.

Billabong

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Billabong brings a casual cool, whether on land or out on your surfboard. Photo: Billabong

Founded in 1973, Billabong made its mark with its durable, triple-stitched board shorts. The brand has since expanded into various segments of the surf industry, offering clothing, accessories, and gear for skateboarding and snowboarding.

The Role of Surf Brands in Shaping Fashion Trends

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The influence of surf culture goes beyond the beach. Photo: FP

As surf brands grew in popularity and influence, they played a significant role in shaping fashion trends. Their colorful, relaxed, and functional designs resonated with people from all walks of life, making surf-inspired clothing a staple in casual wardrobes.

Over the years, surf brands have introduced various trends, including tropical prints, bold colors, and gender-fluid designs. These trends have been embraced by surfers and mainstream fashion enthusiasts, making surf style an integral part of the fashion landscape.

The Evolution of Surfer Style Over the Decades

Surfer style has evolved significantly over the years, reflecting the changing tastes and preferences of the surfing community and the broader fashion world.

The 1960s & 1970s: The Birth of Surfer Style

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1960s surf style for men had a smart, streamlined look. Photo: iStock

In its formative years, the essence of surfer style was encapsulated in laid-back, casual, and unpretentious apparel. Loose-fitting board shorts, often called “baggies,” were preferred to restrictive swimsuits. Moreover, the fashion landscape was awash with vibrant hues and patterns inspired by the Hawaiian aesthetic.

During the 1970s, international influences, such as psychedelic art and ikat patterns from Oaxaca, Mexico, entered surf fashion. These eclectic designs added a touch of flair and artistic expression to the surfer look.

The 1980s & 1990s: The Crossover of Surf, Skate & Snow

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Nineties’ surf style reflected an aesthetic that permeated the mainstream. Photo: iStock

In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a noticeable crossover between surf, skate, and snowboard fashion. Brands like Quiksilver and Reef catered to enthusiasts of all these “board sports,” creating versatile clothing and gear that could be worn across different activities.

Bold patterns and neon hues captured the zeitgeist throughout this era, making a splash both seaside and street-side. The surfer aesthetic experienced a revitalized embrace of Hawaiian motifs as well.

The 2000s & Beyond: The Modern Surfer Look

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Shaggy hairstyles are as synonymous with the surfer as are board shorts. Photo: Shutterstock

Today, surfer style is a mix of classic elements and modern trends. The laid-back, functional, and colorful aesthetic of the past is still present but with a contemporary twist. Long surfer hair, messy buns, and man buns have become popular hairstyles, while surf brands increasingly embrace eco-friendly materials and sustainable practices.

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Fashion brands like N°21 use surf style to inform a youthful and relaxed fashion. Photo: N°21

In recent years, surf fashion has also made its way onto high-fashion runways, further solidifying its status as a timeless and captivating trend.

Top Surf Brands to Follow

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Quiksilver is a legend when it comes to iconic surf brands. Photo: Quiksilver

Knowing which surf brands offer the best products and designs is essential to capturing the essence of surfer style. Here are some of the top surf brands that have made a significant impact on the industry and continue to define the surfer look:

  1. O’Neill: Known for its innovative wetsuits and surfwear, O’Neill offers a range of high-quality products that cater to both surfers and fashion enthusiasts alike.
  2. Rip Curl: Focusing on sustainability and performance, Rip Curl is a top choice for surfwear and accessories.
  3. Billabong: As one of the most iconic surf brands, Billabong offers a diverse range of clothing, gear, and accessories for surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding.
  4. Quiksilver: With its bold designs and crossover appeal, Quiksilver has become a staple in the surf, skate, and snowboard fashion scenes.

Achieving the Perfect Surfer Look: Tips & Tricks

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It’s easy to nail down surfer style with a couple of tips. Photo: Shutterstock

Now that you’re familiar with the top surf brands and the history of surfer style, it’s time to assemble your surfer-inspired wardrobe. Here are some tips and tricks to help you achieve the perfect surfer look:

  1. Start with the basics: Invest in a few essential items, such as board shorts, sandals, and graphic tees. These pieces will serve as the foundation for your surfer wardrobe and can be easily mixed and matched with other items.
  2. Embrace color and patterns: Surfer style is all about bright colors and bold patterns. Don’t be afraid to incorporate tropical prints, neon hues, and eye-catching designs into your outfits.
  3. Go for comfort and functionality: Surfer fashion is rooted in practicality, so opt for clothing that is comfortable, durable, and easy to move in. Lightweight materials like cotton and linen are ideal for staying cool and comfortable on the beach.
  4. Accessorize with purpose: Complete your surfer look with functional accessories, such as sunglasses, hats, and beach bags. Opt for eco-friendly materials and brands that prioritize sustainability.
  5. Experiment with hairstyles: Surfer-inspired hairstyles, such as long layers, messy buns, and the ever-popular man bun, can add authenticity to your look. Experiment with different styles to find the one that best suits your personality and lifestyle.

Surfer Style Essentials

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Hit the beach in board shorts for an instant surfer essential. Photo: Adobe Stock

The surfer lifestyle extends beyond the waves and seashores. It has a distinct fashion aesthetic that reflects the easy-going, adventurous, and free-spirited ethos of the surfing culture:

Board Shorts

Board shorts are a crucial part of any surfer’s wardrobe. They are distinctively designed for comfort and functionality during a surf session. A quality pair of board shorts won’t get overly heavy and saggy after prolonged water exposure, thus their popularity among surfers globally.

These shorts are typically made from soft cotton blends and feature a velcro or drawstring waist for an adjustable fit. Unlike regular shorts, they extend to the knee, providing extra coverage. Board shorts are not only practical but also stylish with their casual look. Modern designs often incorporate pockets and other functional details, enhancing their versatility and usefulness beyond the waves.

Sandals

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Embrace ease and comfort with flip-flops. Photo: Deposit Photos

Regarding footwear, sandals are the go-to choice for most surfers. These are easy to slip on and off, providing convenience when transitioning between land and water. Investing in a durable, high-quality pair is crucial, which can withstand the sandy beach and wet conditions. While flip-flops are standard, slide sandals can also make a stylish and comfortable choice.

Graphic & Logo T-Shirts

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Brighten your day with a surf tee like this Quiksilver gold logo t-shirt. Photo: Tilly’s

Surfing culture embraces vibrant, expressive t-shirt designs. A staple in many surfers’ closets is the graphic tee. These t-shirts are far from mundane, usually featuring bold colors and eye-catching inscriptions or designs.

For surfers, these tees serve a dual purpose—they are not only fashion statements but also act as platforms to express individual narratives, advocate for social causes, or share unique perspectives.

Stylish Sunglasses

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Shade your eyes and look stylish in a modern pair of sunglasses. Photo: Adobe Stock

Sunglasses are a vital accessory in beachwear and surfer styles. Beyond their primary function of protecting the eyes from harmful sun rays, they add a layer of coolness to the surfer’s look. Mirrored and polarised sunglasses are particularly favored among surfers, offering improved visual clarity while adding a stylish edge.

Jewelry

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Perfect your surfer vibe with shell jewelry. Photo: FP

Surf-inspired jewelry tends to lean towards minimalistic and natural designs. Braided hemp ropes and shells turned into bracelets are common, reflecting the surfer’s connection with nature. Layered necklaces with beads or minor artifacts can also be seen among surfers, adding a personal touch to their attire.

However, comfort is critical, especially since the jewelry should not interfere with surfing activities. Therefore, lightweight and flat accessories that feel comfortable when lying on a surfboard are recommended. Consider items like a Shamballa bracelet or a wristband with an inspiring message for wrist adornments.

Final Words

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Embrace the vibrant lifestyle of a surfer with a carefree style aesthetic. Photo: FP

While surf brands and fashion trends may come and go, the true essence of surfer style lies in the spirit of surf culture. This laid-back, adventurous lifestyle is about embracing the freedom of the ocean, connecting with nature, and living life to the fullest.

By incorporating elements of surf fashion into your wardrobe and adopting an eco-conscious mindset, you can pay homage to the rich history of surfing and its enduring influence on the fashion world. So grab your board, hit the waves, and ride the tide of surfer style.


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