In the fifties, surfing was almost unknown by the general community. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, everybody wanted to go surfing or at least have an association with the lifestyle. Suddenly, a new style of surf clothing began to be seen, even in midwestern states far from the waves. What happened?
No, it was not the Beach Boys who first popularized surfing. In 1957, a man wrote a short book about his daughter, who was one of the first surfer girls. Called “Gidget”, the book went on to become a hit movie in 1959. That was where it all really began.
The producers of the film knew they were on to something big and enlisted big stars James Darren and Sandra Dee to star in the movie, with superstar Cliff Robertson in a strong supporting role. The movie featured some surfing footage, but mostly it featured girls in bikinis and well-built guys in surfing trunks.
The popularity of that movie led to many more imitators. In pop music, surf music became huge, with groups like Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys making in to Number One on the charts. About the only teenagers who didn’t like their music were surfers, who really preferred to keep their sport to themselves. Instead, they listened to the music of bands like Dick Dale and the Ventures. The fast-paced guitar licks in instrumentals like “Perfidia” and “Walk, Don’t Run” were what they listened to before they tackled the waves.
There was no stopping the tidal wave of interest in surfing, though. In just a few short years, surfing had gone from nowhere to mainstream. Suddenly the beaches were filled with surfers and where they couldn’t surf, young people wore surfing fashions and dreamed of riding the waves.
Baggy Hawaiian shirts, baggy trunks and Hawaiian print bikinis were the surfing style of that era. It took time for a surfing apparel industry to evolve, but evolve it did. Today, some of the early surf wear companies are multi-million dollar corporations.
Today, you can find surfwear being worn just about anywhere in the world. It runs the gamut from board shorts and bikinis to shoes, shorts, pants, shirts and even socks. Girls styles include tank tops, blouses, skirts, miniskirts and dresses. In fact, many surfers find enough styles to choose from that they wear nothing else but surf wear.
Surfing and surf clothing have entered the mainstream and are no longer on the fringes. The best surfers in the world make millions of dollars and the big surfwear companies compete for their sponsorship dollars. You can’t help but wonder what Gidget thinks about all the changes.