The Evolution of Skating Style

How skaters’ style went from shredded Vans to boob pasties.

”You look like a skater!” heard every kid wearing a snapback and a pair of Vans, whether they actually owned a board or not. This common conception of what makes someone a “skater” has evolved through time and trends, recently with Thrasher’s infamous flame tees or Supreme’s absolutely everything (we shall not reveal our take on this controversial topic).

The origins of skateboarding’s uniform trace back to the 70’s, when Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta started buying Paul Van Doren’s rubber and canvas shoes, since skating barefoot was becoming dangerous. Van Doren’s (Vans, you got it) shoes were affordable, wore longer and gripped better to the board thanks to the waffle sole. But mostly, the skaters could feel the board beneath their feet, elevating the simple rubber kicks to the ultimate go-to for surfers, skaters and later on anyone who loved what they did and wanted to feel it deeper.

Through the Z-boys, Alva and Peralta’s teammates, Vans found a market that connected with the brand’s grassroots ethics, which quickly spread outside California. ”Every skateboarder kid in the world wants to look like they live in Los Angeles” says 2017 Skateboarding Hall of Fame inductee Eric Dressen.

Santa Monica surf shop Zephyr birthed the greatest skateboard team there ever was, the Z-Boys.

Vans grew drastically in a few years, establishing in the 90’s sports and music events known and respected around the world. The simple rubber shoes, purchased one by one by Alva who therefore influenced the mismatched shoe style since spotted in skateparks, became a phenomenon within the skating community and beyond, bringing together fans of every background under the same roof.

A similar popular non-skating based interest hit skateboarding magazine Thrasher in 2015, when supermodels and celebrities were pictured wearing the magazine’s merch in their downtime, recognisable by its logo licked by flames. Thrasher’s clothing line became the fashion world’s safe passage into the grim world of skateboarding, projecting the brand onto every Instagram feed, paparazzi shoot and high street. However, the reaction from editor-in-chief Jake Phelps was far from the expected celebration of the brand broadening their market. “We don’t send boxes to Justin Bieber or Rihanna or these fucking clowns. The pavement is where the real shit is. Blood and scabs, does it get realer than that?” he said before his death in 2019, exasperated by what he called a “corny appropriation” of skate culture.

You don’t need to look far to find skater’s opinion on the matter…
Rihanna wearing Thrasher, 2016

Fast forward to the decline of the Thrasher hype, and we find ourselves in 2020 wondering what the next skating trend will be. A new earth-shattering Vans model? Another obscure 80’s Cali publication fighting for their logo not to be used by Tik Tokers? HBO’s Betty might just be offering an alternative.

Crystal Moselle’s series, based on her 2018 film Skate Kitchen, introduces five skateboarders, five girls with very different and distinctive styles that somehow all evoke skating fashion. Costume designer Camille Garmendia worked with the actresses, who play fictionalised versions of themselves, to incorporate their real style into the series’ visual aesthetic. Her motto during the process was to find pieces that would make the girls “feel good while skating”. “Cool skater girls wear whatever makes them feel confident”, highlights Ajani Russell, Indigo in the series. “They unapologetically flaunt their style and passion for skateboarding simultaneously. It doesn’t come down to what brand you’re wearing, but to personalisation”. The girls are seen wearing tie-dye t-shirts bursting with colours, pasties as a sole top to challenge the male-dominated world they evolve through, Obama’s face printed on Supreme shirts…

Skateboarding has gone through decades of change, regarding the sport itself but also the fashion it influences and that has allowed it to go mainstream several times. While trends and sudden hypes can’t be predicted, it seems that drawing on “essentials” such as Vans, the “first skating shoe” brand, while displaying personal taste (the funkier the better!) is what skateboarding is all about right now. And that’s a great thing.

Cover illustration by Alice Bishop