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How To Choose Skate Apparel | Skater Aesthetic Over the Decades

how to dress like a skater

Wearing skate clothes is part of the cultural identity of skateboarding and while styles have varied over the decades, the factors that go into choosing the best clothing for the job have remained constant, like durability and comfort.

Skater Clothes History

History’s most iconic skateboarders have been characterized by out-of-the-box thinking and a non-conformist attitude, and this is often reflected in the way skate style has evolved over generations.

The following section covers the evolution of skate style through the decades.

‘70s Skater Style

skate fashion

In this era, before skate videos brought the culture to the mainstream, skate fashion didn’t have a distinct style. Skaters wore the same clothing that everyone else wore; short shorts, tanks, and knee and elbow pads.

In the last half of this decade, the famous Zephyr skate team, known as the Z-Boys, changed skateboarding with their disruptive, surf-inspired style and counterculture clothing.

The Z-Boys wore long pants and plaid shirts for more protection. However, on warmer days, some skaters would go shirtless with shorts to stay cool during intense pool riding sessions.

Tony Alva, one of the most successful and popular skaters of the era, was one of the first skaters to use his image to sell skateboards. He promoted his style to the masses and helped define the look of an entire culture.

‘80s Skater Style

Skateboarding, particularly vert skating, was wildly popular until the mid 1980s until street skating became prominent. High-top skate shoes marked the era and were adopted in both disciplines.

Shorts began to get a little longer, but still remained above the knee. Bold patterns and bright colors lit up parks as skaters expressed their own sense of style.


‘90s Skater Style

As skateboarding entered the 90s, it began to part ways from mainstream fashion as skate clothing got baggier. Oversized t-shirts were paired with baggy pants and long shorts worn several sizes too big and sagged way below the waistline. Things came full circle as skateboarding began to have a bigger influence on mainstream culture, and the patented “skate style” could now be found in malls and department stores across the globe.

skate style

In line with their baggy clothes, by the mid-90s skaters started to favor bigger, bulkier shoes. Often inspired by the athletic silhouettes and functional features of modern basketball shoes, skate shoes become more technical than ever. Landmark skate shoes like DC’s Josh Kalis and Lynx models put function, durability and technicality above all else. Similarly, clothing brands also started to pack their skate apparel with as much tech as possible.

2000s Skater Style

At the turn of the century, skate style continued to evolve with over-the-top technical designs, and athletic-inspired footwear and apparel. As the industry boomed, brands were making high quality, skate-specific footwear and apparel. And as skateboarding became popular all over the world, skate styles became even more diverse. By the mid-2000s, even though many skaters were still wearing oversized clothing, the most popular pros began to wear super slim jeans paired with vintage shirts and lower profile, vulcanized (vulc) shoes.

skateboarder style

By the end of the 2000s, this punk rock-inspired style had a huge effect on the industry as shoe companies began to phase out their puffy shoes and skate apparel brands focused on slim fitting clothing. And, once again, mainstream fashion soon followed suit. Huge brands like Levi’s began making skinny jeans again and low-profile vulcs became the order of the day.

In the 2010s, skate style became a little less extreme. The pants weren’t quite as skinny and the shoes were neither too puffy nor too slim, but skate styles remained ahead of the curve and continued to influence mainstream and high-fashion brands.

Skateboarder Style Today

modern skate fashion

Skate fashion today is truly a hybrid of styles from generations past. Skaters continue to break the mold, reconnecting to the anti-conformist ideals at the core of the sport.

The baggy style of the ‘90s has returned with a modern twist. Today’s skater might mix oversized t-shirts with bulky shoes and baggy jeans. Others have adopted a hipster or normcore aesthetic with loose fitting vintage clothes and neutral colors mixed with low profile footwear. Iconic skate logos and large screen-prints continue to be popular and skaters continue to push the envelope when it comes to mixing fashion with on-the-board function.

What Is Skater Style?

Skate style may have varied throughout the decades, but two common threads have tied them all together; casual and functional.

  • Casual in that we see collared shirts, vintage tees and loose-fitting pants mixed with worn out skate shoes.
  • Functional in the cuts and materials that promote durability and range of movement, such as thicker fabrics and elastane thread.

Which Skate Clothes To Choose From?

Skater style starts with the right pair of shoes, then you add in the pieces that work together as a whole. The following section explores these elements, working from the ground up.

Skateboard Shoes and Socks

Skate shoes come in three different heights:

  • Low-cut
  • Mid
  • High-top

skateboard fashion

Slip-ons are laceless low-top shoes in a class of their own. Originally developed in the 1960s, modern low-profile slip-ons offer excellent board-feel and are now offered by all the major skate brands.

Skate shoes can be made of a variety of different materials which have an impact on durability, weight, comfort, and performance. Ventilation, soles, tongues, and even lace eyelets have all been designed for optimum performance in skateboarding.

skateboard dress

Skate shoes are always worn with a pair of socks to provide cushioning. High socks provide extra cushioning around the ankles and shins which benefit from extra protection when skateboarding.

For more information on skate shoes, be sure to read our dedicated article on “How to Choose Skate Shoes”.


Skate Pants and Shorts

skate pants

Some skaters wear pants because they provide an extra layer of protection for the knees and shins. Many skate pants are high denier – meaning high thread thickness – to provide durability, and often use elastic materials to help pants stretch when crouching low for an ollie.

Skaters who opt to wear shorts do so for added ventilation and ease of movement. They’ll often protect their shins with a pair of high socks. Traditional skater shorts are baggy and knee-length.


Skate Hoodies

skate sweatshirts

Hoodies have been a staple in skater style since their widespread adoption into the culture in the 1990s. Hoodies can either be:

  • Zip-up hoodies with two pockets at the waist hem
  • Pullover hoodies with a kangaroo style pocket at the waist hem

One thing is for sure, the hoodie will remain a staple of skate style for generations to come.


Iconic Skateboarder T-Shirts

Certain logos, like the DC Star Logo, have become iconic in skateboard culture. These logos symbolize belonging to the culture and let skaters show off their favorite brands.

skater clothing


Skate Hats and Beanies

No skater outfit is complete without a hat or a beanie. Caps can vary in styles including, but not limited to:

  • 6-panel Flexfit® or snap-back hats
  • Trucker hats
  • 5-panel structured baseball-style hats
  • Low-profile, unstructured hats (often called “dad hats”)
  • Bucket hats

skater hats

Beanies can be left long or made low-profile by rolling up the cuff. Today’s style is beanies sitting atop the head rolled-up and above the ears.


Style has played an important role in the culture since the very beginning of skateboarding. Range of movement, durability, comfort, and protection all play a role in choosing the right clothing to create your unique skater style.


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