Why Surfing, Why the Sixties? Exploring 1960’s Surf Fashion through the Surf Jacket.

Allison Murphy
4 min readJun 10, 2021

The additional findings synthesized here, under 1960’s Surf Fashion, intend to answer the unexplained gaps which current Wikipedia forums leave unidentified. This research targets the current 1960’s Surf Fashion sub section, which glosses over one of the most iconic styles of Sixties youth, the surf jacket. Before further research, the blurb shallowly explained the Surfer’s Pendleton jacket’s place in 1960’s fashion. Referenced from online encyclopedias, interviews, and journals, the updated Wikipedia forum answers why Surf Fashion in 1960, and why the Pendleton Jacket for surfers. The updated article explains beyond “[teenagers] imitated the outfits of groups like The Beach Boys. Pendleton jackets were common due to their cheapness, warmth and durability (1960’s Western Fashion).” The additional inputs intend to better reason how surfers identified through the Pendleton surf jacket, its inspiration and its development through the decade. While the original page does mention this iconic fashion, it omits the “whys”, for the surfing fascination, and assumes style accounts based on general observations. In researching the era’s Cold War context, youth culture, and pre Sixties historical fashion, Pendleton Jackets explain not only Surf Fashion, but counterculture fashions of the decade. The surf jacket can arguably symbolize 1960’s fashion and its mood from the contexts it communicates.

Pendleton Surf Jackets in 1960s

The Pendleton Surf Jacket expanded Fifties pop cultural fashions, however new in its relaxed, intangibly cool vibe; a split from the tough guy rock n roll teen. Following Rock n Roll’s decline where rebels without causes, “Greasers” and “Beats”; dressed down in inappropriate daywear to denounce conformity, Sixties youth, inventors of Surf Fashion, expressed more nomadic and hedonically in this “dress down” style. Surf styles mainstreamed into fashion when Soul Surfers wanted to make livings in surfing associated careers. They opened businesses that expanded selling surf products into selling surf clothing. These surfer entrepreneurs proliferate surf fashion by mixing their lifestyles into casual wear (Jones, G. 2010). As Rock n Roll Beats, and Greaser car clubs used jackets to identify, and as 1950 varsity sports wore lettered cardigans, 1960’s Surfies wore surf jackets to identify with surf clubs and as surfers (Retro 1960’s Swimwear). Jackets worn as group status identifiers continued in the Sixties, but with focus around beach music and lifestyle. As surfers banded over localism, plaid and striped surf jackets gained relevancy. Teens wore them to proclaim surf clubs; what beach they were from, and where they surfed. For a surfer though, it’s curious why a woolen plaid jacket paired with UGG boots, and not the board-short identified the surfer. The Pendleton plaid pattern originates from the era’s British invasion while also historically referencing rebellious Scottish clansmen’s fashion. The plaid Pendleton signifies counterculture, and tribal seamen style translated from Welsh folklore and rugged frontiersmen (Bowe). Design wise the surf jacket suited popularly with nonchalance, warmth for coastal Californian climate, and utility pockets for surf wax and VW car keys, two surf essentials (Pendleton Woolen Mills).

The Sixties invented the Californian Cool style, by relaxing style to escape Cold War meltdowns with Polynesian fascinations, bridging the macho 1950’s teen towards 1960’s Hippie style. The Cold War’s tense political context conceived Surf Fashion as a way to relax and escape established violence. California, the birthplace of American Surfing, also produced much of the technology experimentations used in the nuclear space race. Caltech designers in Pasadena were designing nuclear arms for day jobs, and were surfing at night. The modern surfboard design itself originates from the military industrial complex’s product development, where the Manhattan Project’s Hugh Bradner also designed the modern neoprene wetsuit (Inside the Curl). Californian engineers for the Cold War were also surfing and equally engineering that fashion. Just as the Bikini’s name comes from a nuclear test site, Surf fashion in this era consistently references the Cold War context. Surfing became an attractive fashion identity in this era because it perpetuates adolescence, and the pursuit of pleasure in times of anxiety and paranoia. In a teenage driven culture, which aimed to ignore establishment conflicts, surfers mused Hawaii as a place of escape with tropical paradises as the antithesis to modern society. This sustained Hawaiian flora and fauna patterns’ in fashion its attraction. The Sixties Surfer was not the first to escape violence or revolutionize the pursuit of happiness through Polynesian fascination. Accounts of Thomas Jefferson theorize that his exposure to the surfer image in South Pacific travel journals influenced his imagined Pursuit of Happiness (Martin D. Henry). Similarly, Hawaii’s surfer image and Californian translation responds to the decade’s violence and further inspired full on nonviolent revolutionary Hippie fashions.

As it now stands, Wikipedia’s dissemination of 1960’s Western Fashion discusses why Surf Fashion transpired in the Sixties, and why the Pendleton jacket represents Surf Style. Previously ignored, the page now links Surf Fashion back to how 50’s teens used jackets, the meaning of Pendleton plaid, and the surf jacket’s design. The era’s Cold War context and consequential escape through pursuit of happiness answers why Surfing and why the Sixties.