How skateboarding has influenced fashion and pop-culture

Nirvan Manet-Bhaskar

We’ve all heard the deafening noise of 50mm wheels on asphalt and seen the clusters of teens sporting baggy pants, landing tricks, and thinking they are above the law. But as the appeal of skateboarding and its culture grow worldwide, one can realize that skating is no longer merely a realm of misfits who wear needlessly oversized pants. Having spread from its roots as a small counter-culture activity, skateboarding has now permeated society, leaving a surprisingly large footprint on global pop culture and fashion.

Music, one of the most notable categories of pop-culture, has to have been affected by skateboarding in order for this argument to have substance. To illustrate this is, skateboarding’s participation in the creation of a new genre known as ‘skate punk.’ While skateboarding was  considered an anarchic form of self-expression practiced by a small band of outcasts, it exploded on the west coast of America in the late 70s and 80s which coincided with the emergence of US punk rock. The similar anti-establishment ideology prompted this time period to be a breeding ground for new forms of expression and lead to the creation of the aforementioned ‘skate punk’ genre.

One can notice these ‘skate punk’ songs all throughout skate videos created in the late 70’s and 80’s. A notable example would be Santa Cruz Skateboarding’s use of the skate punk group MinuteMen and their song “Paranoid Chant” in the legendary 1989 video “Streets on Fire.” Throughout the late 80’s and 90’s, the use of music in skateboarding shifted to less aggressive genres, with some even adopting more classical genres such as jazz. One of these adopters is the skateboarding legend Guy Mariano who shocked the skateboarding world by using the jazz icon Herbie Hancock’s song “Watermelon Man” in his 1996 video titled “Mouse.” This use of more classical genres enabled an entire generation to discover a new type of music made 40 years prior, thus shaping the musical taste of countless people. In the late 90’s, Hip Hop and skateboarding shared a close bond, with both embodying anti-establishment views. Skaters pulled out music from the discography of legendary Hip Hop artists such as Nas or Mobb Deep. As Hip Hop became one of the most popular genres of the 90’s, this marked the second time skateboarding directly led to the growth of a musical genre and is another example of how skate culture influenced popular culture.

Ever since the death of skinny jeans in the early 2010’s, the rise of streetwear has dominated the scene, leading to a frenzy of new popular fashion modeled on the attire and aesthetic of skaters. Skateboarding attire consists mainly of comfortable and functional clothing with an emphasis on durability due to the repeated rough landings taken by skaters. Wearing a skate brand makes an individual feel a part of this subculture that prides itself on being different and free from authority. They ignore the face value of comfortable and durable clothes, and see it as something more underground and exclusive which drives up the allure; just take a look at how skate wear has started to sell out on major retailer platforms such as Urban Outfitters which normally have a massive supply. As such, the skater attitude has proven to be infinitely seductive to brands looking to commandeer the spirit for their own gains. And one of the reasons that skate wear has become mainstream is undoubtedly due to branding.

But the supremacy of the brands on the scene today stems from their authenticity. And amongst a clan of heavy hitters, there are two main giants who stand shoulders above the rest: Supreme and Stussy. Both come from skateboarding backgrounds - Supreme started in 1994 as a skate shop on Lafayette St. in New York City and eventually transitioned into selling clothing, while Stussy was founded in the late 80’s by Shawn Stussy. These brands lifted different elements of pop-culture into their clothing. For example, Stussy’s interlocked S logo originated from the world famous Chanel interlocked C logo. The marriage of influences allowed the brands to create something new and energetic, gaining a dedicated and international following within only a few years. Seeing this large demand, these brands did not hesitate to capitalise off it and drive up the hype of their products by limiting inventory. The web store inventory sells out in a matter of seconds, lines with day-long waiting times circling around the block, and even violence over the coveted clothing are all proof that skate style has evolved into a global phenomenon.

Skateboarding, once a small counter culture activity, is now as prominent in pop culture as Pulp Fiction or Michael Jordan. The industry has clearly emerged from its grassroots origins and left an important mark on society. Indeed, as the cult of the skater develops into a contemporary culture, it will be interesting to see how society will cope with such fervent and sustained admiration.