Surf Style Is Blowing Up and It’s Super-Fun, Man

Tennis. Ice skating. Basketball. Hiking. Skiing. Skateboarding. Yoga. It’s easy to rattle off a list of sports with aesthetics ripe for fashionable interpretation, which is no doubt why the fashion industry has taken stylistic cues from them for decades. Not only is sportive style genuinely appealing, but it also tends to be practical by definition. Such is certainly the case with the burgeoning surf-inspired trend found across many of the Spring/Summer 2019 collections, in such abundance it’s hard to ignore.

Surf style’s infiltration of runway collections has been unfolding gradually for awhile now, from Chanel surfboards in 2014 to Vaquera’s parody surf shop logos in 2018. John Moore, the co-founder of pro surfer Kelly Slater’s lifestyle brand Outerknown, summed up the logic behind this crescendo in a story last year on Fashionista: “The common denominator across all eras in the evolution of surf style is that surfing has always been about this intangible cool. And today, all designers and brands search for it. This idea of ‘effortless fashion’ or an ‘I just threw this on’ vibe…”

This season seems to embody that sense of intangible cool on a whole new level: gender-fluid scuba skirts in various animal prints at Calvin Klein. An evening gown made from upcycled neoprene and bedsheets at Marine Serre. Knits and sweatshirts emblazoned with surfer silhouettes at Michael Kors. A wetsuit rendered in sequins at Sportmax. Rash guards at Richard Malone.

In reviewing this theme throughout the collections, it occurred to me that surf style might be the ultimate vehicle for summertime maximalism. With its penchant for color-blocking, eye-catching lines, and creative fabrics, it fills a void left by winter layers and their accompanying delights — a void that can’t be addressed with shoes and accessories alone. In that sense, it’s one of the most exciting manifestations of athleisure to date, a breed of effortlessness — real or perceived — that doesn’t sacrifice discomfort or fun in favor of cool. It also offers a uniquely flexible spectrum for participation. Whether you choose to partake in the trend via a zippered one-piece swimsuit under men’s swim trunks or dive in (hehe) full-throttle with wetsuit-inspired sequin formalwear, the upsides are yours for the reaping.

Beyond that, there’s something to be said for the way surfer fashion provides an alternative summer style identity to the multitudes of delicate dresses and floral skirts that isn’t simply jean shorts and white tank top. It offers up potential paths for those whose personal style lands somewhere between “tropical fruit drink” and “serenely masculine.” It’s the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure, a chance to experiment within the comforting confines of an aesthetic that has an identity and purpose of its own outside of the fashion industry. And most importantly, it’s proof that you don’t actually have to go to the beach to mentally spend a day there.

Photographed by Edith Young at the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse. Rooms by Paloma ContrerasPeter Pennoyer Architects, Jennifer Cohler Mason, Robert Passal, Daniel Kahan, and Young HuhStyled by Harling Ross. Modeled by Anna Ling of Jag Models and Abla Osman of Muse Models. Market assistance by Elizabeth Tamkin. Makeup by Andrew Colvin at See Management using RMS beauty. 

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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