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Dressing With Attitude : Skateboarders' garb must be very loose to allow for tricks

April 09, 1993|WILLIAM KISSEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It makes no difference to Zavier Corby that his baggy denim jeans slip a few degrees below the equator while he's riding his skateboard.

His only concern is that his pants don't restrict his ability to ollie--that's "jump" for the uninitiated--his new skateboard over a chain blocking the parking lot at Val's Surf & Sport in North Hollywood.

"They're easier to skate in than tight pants because with tight pants you can't, like, test yourself when you do tricks," says the 14-year-old, tugging up on his trousers. "It gets nasty. You get murphies (when your pants or underwear ride too high for comfort) and stuff."

To Corby and his skateboard buddies, what you wear while riding is almost as important as what you ride. Experienced skaters take their cues from the hip-hop, grunge and rave music scenes, opting for solid-colored, baggy pants and shorts and oversized shirts. Bold graphic elements, such as logos, are in; multicolored prints are out.

It's not uncommon to see a teen-age rider with a 26-inch waist wearing a pair of Size 36 pants, sporting rebellious labels such as Fuct, Counterfit, New Deal and Blind. Extra large T-shirts and flannel overshirts by Independent, 101 and Nappy (worn inside out when the graphics become dated) are also standard skateboarding garb. A backward baseball cap, which has run its course in some fashion circles, can be part of the uniform, but many young street skaters prefer Kangol fur caps and snowboarders' knit beanies. And, not as an afterthought, the shoes of choice are Airwalk or Vans low-top sneakers.

(It's easy to spot a newcomer to the sport. He's the guy who still thinks of skateboarding as the poor man's surfing and shows up in those multicolored, lightweight cotton pants with the pull-on elastic waistband and ankle treatments.)

Skateboarders started to adopt this new baggy style of dress in the late 1980s when street skating displaced ramp skating. (Ramp skaters were known for elbow and kneepads, helmets and lightweight fabrics, but street skaters wear heavier-weight variations of typical suburban streetwear.) But fit isn't the only factor when it comes to picking out clothes.

"Skaters show attitude in the names of the clothes they wear," says Jake Phelps, editor of San Francisco-based Thrasher magazine, the skateboard industry bible. Indeed, labels are just as important as the look of the garment. "Companies like Fuct and 40s are hot now. It's called 40s because you can hold a cold chillin' 40-ounce beer in your back pocket. The clothes are heavy because when you slam, they take a lot of wear. They're loose so they don't restrict your movement. And shoes are low-tops that are also light on your feet."

Most of these clothes are manufactured for skaters by skaters. Top skateboarders such as Jason Lee, Jordan Richter and Salman Agah all endorse and/or operate skateboard and apparel firms.

Variations on the look seem to be based on geography. Many skateboarders in the San Fernando Valley, for instance, opt for home-grown labels by professional skaters such as Steve Rocco (World Industries), Tommy Guerrero and Jim Thiebaud (Real) and Paul Schmitt (New Deal). But don't look for these three labels in department stores; they're sold only in skateboard shops.

In South Los Angeles, hip-hop collections by Fresh Jive, Cross Colours and Stussy share the streets with newcomers such as Fuct and 101. In more suburban areas, clothes by longtime uniform manufacturers such as Ben Davis and Dickies (which now advertises in skateboard magazines) are being rediscovered and modified as street-skating apparel. Fresh Jive, Cross Colours and Stussy are available at department and specialty stores nationwide. Fuct and 101 are limited to skateboard shops. Ben Davis and Dickies are sold in chain stores.

New street-skate fashions don't come cheap. Some Fuct and Counterfit denim jeans cost $60; oversized T-shirts by Sophisto and New Deal and baggy Underworld Element shorts are $30; Airwalk shoes can run up to $60. Skaters say they are lucky if these items last them a month.

Such high turnover has created a multimillion-dollar industry, but most retailers agree that profits are down. At Val's, the skateboard-apparel business has dropped from 25% to 10% over nine years. "It was cyclical from the beginning," says owner Mark Richards. "It's been a real roller-coaster ride for us. But now it seems to be creeping its way back into popularity."

Phelps, on the other hand, warns that "skaters eat new skateboard companies for breakfast." He says many of the young skateboard-apparel companies today will be gone or doing business under a different name within a few months.

"There's no structure to it at all," he says. "One day one company is hot and two months later no one is talking about them anymore. So six months later, they start a new company and they're hot again. The companies that become popular got that way because they were started by skaters. Kids would rather listen to another skater than some retailer."

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