It hasn’t always been tall tees and baggy pants, quite the contrary. Snowboarding style has taken many shapes, sizes and forms as it’s twirled through the ages. From early ski-inspired style to creating a unique costume for the sport, snowboarding fashion harks at the countercultural roots it celebrates.
To set the scene, back in the days before snowboarding, skiwear was shaped around staying warm, ease of access, and of course, undeniable glamour. The importance of warmth was keenly felt by Klaus Obermeye, originally a ski instructor in Sun Valley. However, when he lost so many clients to the extreme cold, he resorted to inventing the parka in the 1940’s to keep customers cozy. Up until the 1930’s, the ‘ski skirt’ featured in Vogue Magazine - which must have been quite a draughty option. Yet, this early ski regalia was soon shed for something a little more radical when snowboarding emerged.
The 60’s, 70’s and 80’s saw the arrival of bright, shiny synthetics outfits that ruled the pistes. Ski wear began to cross over into street wear and the explosion of retro stores that flourish today are indicative of that early style that is still very much prevalent on the slopes. A hangover from that era of vibrant, bold colours and tightly fitting snow outfits. Yet, the 90’s was when the baggy clothing phase became established.
Some argue the loose clothing was to allow ease of movement, akin to the feeling of floating. Others state it’s due to snowboarders copying skate style, or replicating the gangster look of low slung jeans - since inmates are typically banned from having belts. It’s typical of snowboarders and their unique, rebellious nature to reject the stylish sportswear worn by most sporting professionals (think of golf or tennis players). Rather than following the standard style, snowboarders adopted and adapted punk and hip hop culture into their clothing. This is reflected in the upper echelons of the sport, where by osmosis the counterculture ideology is portrayed in snowboarder’s outfits. Take the X Games for example. Typically any athlete aims to wear clothing that streamlines them and provides the least air resistance. However, the International Ski Federation (FIS) has developed separate rules for snowboard and ski cross. No speed suits are allowed and the athlete’s outerwear must consist of two pieces. Tops must have 6cm of fabric between the elbow and bicep when pinched, and 8cm between the top of the boot and mid thigh for the trousers. Since the X Games are invitation only, to ensure an invitation for the following year, snowboard (and ski) cross skiers insist on wearing loose clothing - it’s a nod to the anti-establishment roots that is synonymous with snowboarding culture. Casey Puckett, previous Alpine athlete, and gold medalist from the X Games, noted “when I grew up in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, it was cool to be an Alpine skier and race in a downhill suit but when snowboarding came, and free riding, it became uncool to be in a speed suit.”
It’s a tussle between old school functionality vying with new school fashion, yet the clothing style epitomises snowboarding’s ability to innovate whilst clashing with mainstream mores. Who’d have thought that donning baggy trousers, and long tees isn’t just a stylish gesture - it’s a symbol of saying ‘seeya’ to traditional norms.