Making Waves: The Coolest Surf Fashion Brands
Hanging out at the beach, living to ride waves and having a body sculpted by Neptune himself – who wouldn’t want to emulate that lifestyle? The simple fact of the matter is that surfing is fundamentally cool, and by proxy, so are the clothes associated with it.
Surf fashion is a bit of a paradox. The stereotypical surfer is easy going and carefree. He doesn’t care about who wore what at Paris Fashion Week. Hell, he probably doesn’t care about what he himself is wearing on any given day. And that is exactly what makes him cool.
Nevertheless, there are certain garments that are intrinsically linked to the surfing world and a handful of great brands making them. Here we take a look at the relationship between surfing and fashion, the key garments, and the brands that make them best.
Surfing’s Fashion Connection
Surfing might not be particularly bothered about fashion, but the same can’t be said the other way around. Fashion has a long and well-documented history of borrowing from surf culture.
High-fashion houses including Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Saint Laurent have made their own highly limited surfboards in the past, and many others have run surf-centric campaigns. The likes of Ralph Lauren, Versace and Chanel have even gone as far as to cast pro-surfer models.
Dior and Gucci have flirted with surf too. The former famously teamed up with surfwear legend Shawn Stussy for a collaborative collection and to design the label’s set for a runway show, and the latter created a surfing video game to promote clean beaches.
Stüssy has been one of the biggest driving forces behind surfing’s high-fashion infiltration. The Californian brand single-handedly started the streetwear movement with which fashion has become so transfixed, and now produces seasonal collections that blur the line between runway show and surf shack.
Key Surf Fashion Pieces
Thanks to Stüssy, the graphic tee is one of the garments most closely associated with surf fashion. These are simple T-shirts, often loose-fitting, emblazoned with things like brand logos, beachy motifs and imagery.
Lots of brands make them, but Stüssy is the label that really popularised the look and linked it to surf culture.
Floral prints and open collars have long been associated with the beach. They’re relaxed, breezy, summery and look great with shorts and a tan.
Fabrics like linen, silk and tencel are great for this type of garment as they’re cooling, quick-drying and light.
A good pair of swimming shorts or board shorts is a must for catching waves in warm locations. It’s often the below-the-knee variety that people tend to think of, but any style of water-going shorts can be used for surfing, provided they’re long enough to stop private parts from popping out.
Patagonia’s famous Baggies have been some of the coolest in the game for decades.
When the sun starts to set and that beach air cools down, a hoodie is the obvious thing to throw on while you carry your board back home. Again, Stüssy was instrumental in popularising this type of garment, but any surf brand worth its saltwater will be making its own beach-friendly versions.
Flip-flops or Birkenstocks are basically unofficial uniform for surfers. They’re comfortable, easy to slip on and off quickly, and they can look great if you buy the right pair.
In a word, Vans.
The Coolest Surf Fashion Brands For Men
Californian outdoor clothing brand Patagonia got its start in the climbing and mountaineering community, but it didn’t take long for it to become a common sight on the beach too.
As famous for its environmental credentials as it is for its clothes, Patagonia takes all kinds of measures to ensure its products are as eco-friendly and ethical as possible. These include working with recycled, repurposed and natural materials, offering full transparency into its supply chain, and most recently, putting 100 per cent of company shares into a trust dedicated to fighting climate change.
Naturally, this all appeals to people who spend their lives in the ocean. Check out the brand’s P-6 logo tees and Baggies shorts – two beach classics that are right at home in any busy surf spot.
Who better to design surf clothing than the greatest surfer of all time, Kelly Slater? In his youth, pro surfer Slater modelled briefly for Versace, but today his primary connection to the fashion world is through his own label, Outerknown.
The brand produces a range of beach-friendly casualwear that’s low key, well made and manufactured as sustainably as possible. It’s so good that it’s even been picked up by premium menswear retailers outside of the surf-apparel space, like Mr Porter.
The range includes all kinds of everyday garments, but for us it’s the flannel shirts that steal the show.
Founded in the UK surfing capital of Cornwall, Finisterre is an eco-conscious casualwear brand with cold-water surfing at its heart. Designs are simple, produced using responsible materials and transported and packaged sustainably to keep environmental damage to a minimum.
The label makes wetsuits, but it also makes laid-back casual pieces for out of the water too. Think eco-friendly outerwear, organic cotton tees and sweats, knitwear and accessories.
You can’t talk about surf fashion and fail to mention Stüssy. The Californian brand started life making surfboards before branching out into graphic T-shirts and hoodies. It laid the template for what would come to be known as streetwear and has been highly active in the scene ever since.
The brand has now moved away from its surfing roots, but it still produces some fantastic clothing. Its seasonal collections are heavy on prints and patterns, mixing traditional streetwear with elements of workwear, sportswear and even soft tailoring.
NYC-born, California-based label Battenwear isn’t a surf brand in the strictest sense of the term, but founder Shinya Hasegawa is an avid surfer and beach dweller, which is reflected in his brand’s laid-back, stylish outdoor-living gear.
The label produces everything from outerwear to bags and accessories, drawing inspiration from beach wear, old-school mountaineering gear and the great outdoors.
Pilgrim Surf + Supply
Pilgrim Surf + Supply is another New York brand that’s heavily influenced by the surfing world while operating more within the contemporary menswear space.
Sure, the online and physical stores stock a carefully chosen selection of surfboards and wetsuits, but the main attraction is the in-house clothing brand, with its loose cuts, quirky patterns, relaxed silhouettes and beach-ready energy.
There must be something in the water in New York, because Saturdays NYC is yet another surf-inspired menswear brand hailing from the Big Apple.
Founded in 2009, it’s a lifestyle brand with obvious surf-culture influences that creates stylish casual clothing for everyday wear.
Expect to find tasteful logo tees and sweats, swimwear, camp collar shirts and anything else you might need for a day by the sea.
Surfers don’t tend to wear shoes on the board or on the beach, but when they do have to pull some on, it’s usually a pair of Vans they’re lacing up.
The Californian skate brand is one of the biggest names in board sports and its iconic wavy line logo has become synonymous with alternative lifestyles.
Check out iconic skate shoes like the OG Slip-On, Old Skool, Authentic and Sk8-Hi.