Fashion Is Currently Obsessed With Surf Culture (and for Good Reason)

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Gisele surf Chanel
Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

Sun-bleached locks, deep tans, athletic physiques – it’s no wonder fashion has become obsessed with surf culture recently. If leisure time is the ultimate luxury, surfing’s fun-in-the-sun opportunities signal that the wearer has ample time to catch a wave. It’s the kind of message that lends itself to high fashion, whose frequent appropriation of recreational activities like skiing, skating, and now surfing benefits the consumer who wants to convey a lifestyle of all things je ne sais quoi and jetsetting. In other words, it’s cool to look like a surfer, even if you’ve never touched a board in your life.

Born out of an ideal location in the South Pacific, where waves swell and surge with mighty force around Oceania’s myriad of islands, surfing was an integral part of Polynesian culture for hundreds of years before British settlers observed and documented it in the late 18th century. Hawaii – which sits at the top of the Polynesian triangle – became a prime surf location in the early 20th century, thanks in large part to the “Father of Modern Surfing” George Freeth, who created the longboard. However, it wasn’t until 1975 that professional surfing contests started, which allowed professional surfers to develop careers. In 2018, surfing is a $7 billion global industry.

Hermes Sea, Surf and Fun silk square
The 'Sea, Surf, and Fun' silk scarf by Hermès | Photo: Courtesy of Hermès

It’s always curious when fashion takes a sudden interest in a new sub-culture, and even more curious when it appears in multiple collections in a given season. Perhaps designers are operating with the unconscious sense that all of the tropical paradises we know right now might be underwater in ten years and are trying to preserve surf codes for future generations. More likely, however, is that surfing is a distinct and awe-inspiring way to connect to Mother Nature and her forces. In an interview with BBC, professional surfer Julie Cox put it this way, “It’s almost like a religion in a way. You find your peace out there, looking out at the horizon. You’re out catching a bunch of waves, watching the sun go down, while birds are diving down to get their food or a dolphin pops up right next to you. For me, that’s as good as it gets.”

Beyond the wax, the leashes, and the surfboards themselves, surf culture conceived a number of sartorial goodies. Wetsuits, neoprene bathing suits, bucket hats, ponchos, hoodies, and flip-flops are all staples of the surf wardrobe, and fashion designers have spent a lot of time figuring out how to make them appeal to the modern shopper. For Spring/Summer 2018, surf references abounded on runways at Gucci, Fenty Puma, and No. 21. For some designers, it means plucking tropical references from the surf world, like palm tree prints and hothouse blossoms decorating attire at Michael Kors, Baja East, and Coach.

Regardless of what drives your interest – a spiritual connection to nature or simply an effortlessly cool way to enjoy the summer in style – surf inspiration is everywhere for the warmer months. With so many vibrant colors, vivid patterns, and easy-to-wear separates, this is one fashion wave you’ll really enjoy riding.

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