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The Deconstruction of the Utility Board Short

Updated: Aug 9, 2019

Aesthetic of Function vs. Fashion: A Deconstructive Board Short Project

Historical and Contextual

Innovation of board shorts organically progressed throughout the history of surfing. The product has transformed over time as surfing has grown and spread its influence throughout the world. Since the dawn of surfboard riding on the islands of Hawaii in 1779, attire has progressed. In the western end of the Hawaiian Island chain European explorers recorded the Polynesians immense passion for the sport, as Island Chiefs and respected locals surfed at Kealakekua Bay; naked. Stripped down of all clothes for the sole purpose of convenience while in the waves. Surfers did not want to be hindered by any problematic nonfunctional hand crafted mainland garb, fashioned without sport in mind.

In the early twentieth century in the US, fashion for surfing and beach attire consisted of neck to knee, one piece woolen suits; a police enforced regulation for how much skin one could show, in tandem with the absence of invention up until this point. Pioneers of surfing such as John “Doc” Ball, Palos Verdes Surf Club founder, expanded the image of surfing and influenced surfers through his nationwide distribution of surf photography on the Southern California coast. It was apparent that people were interested and wanted to tune in after this. So, as an influencer of the time, and an innovator, Doc transgressed early surfing attire by sewing his own thick, baggy, cotton shorts constructed with enough support to withstand heavy wipeouts. He taught others his DIY style of clothing, and influenced the functionality that others desperately needed. In similar DIY fashion, just up the West coast, members of the Manhattan Beach Surf Club would pick up oversized white sailor pants at the Salvation Army, slice off the bottoms of the garment leaving frayed edges, and inserted a draw string in the waistband. The oversized and below-the-knee fit would fight inner thigh chaffing from rubbing on the surfboard wax and the drawstring would hold the shorts waist high and in place during rough falls. Alongside the functionality was an aesthetic that represented a particular lifestyle surfers wanted to portray in society. These surfers, while not surfing, pulled their pants down lower on their waist with an untied draw string to showcase their social association with the sport. This group lived in these pairs of trunks, appeared scroungy to others, and outsiders knew who they were; a posse that contained their own vocabulary; and in many decades referred to as counter-culture. Important to note is the temporal relationship in the design of the trunks; that the functionality in the design came before all else such as social implications.

In other regions, surfers were trying different things; innovating the utility of attire. Individual seamstresses appeared in regions from Southern California to Waikiki, sewing innovative boardshorts. Styles transformed as figureheads and famous surfers started to influence other surfer and admirers. Duke Kahanamoku, the most famous surfer in the 30’s, wore Lyn’s boardshorts of Waikiki in his extensive travels, surfing exhibitions, and Hollywood films. Others tried to emulate his lifestyle, and that started with what he wore. His original style showed others that they could stand out too for the first time by customizing their shorts just as he did. Movies, counter culture lifestyle, music, new brands, individuality, icons of the surfing world, and influential surfers sponsored by brands, inspired others to choose their shorts based on color, fit, and aesthetic design. These all had influence on boardshort design; but throughout the decades, a functional purpose was the through-line in design and innovation.

As surf board shorts have evolved into the modern object that they are today, a wide range of options remain for the mainstream audience. From sustainably sourced, to renowned surfer influenced. But through all the development of surfing attire, the surfer has told the story of development. And brands studied the social implications that inspired their design. However, for the authentic surfer, the most evolved design today is the hyper-functional, well fitting, technologically advanced, high performance, utility geared, highly revolutionized men’s board shorts sophisticatedly constructed for optimum activity with the most sport driven material on the market.


Surfing attire has evolved since the early history of wave riding. Through utility, style, branding, and sport exploration, board shorts have progressed into a highly technological short that is worn in high performance surfing by authentic world-class surfing professionals. The Deconstructive Board Short Project is an object that negates the current manufactured and consumer driven object that is designed on a majorly functional foundation. The aesthetic of the modern board shorts are driven by utility, so to identify how this representation inhabits reality, this project explains the opposing impression that is not visible within the object. The object that I am proposing goes beneath the assumptions based on the most modern board shorts: it is a high fashion runway designer garment, with on oversized, tapered style, composed of delicate water absorbent material that will be destroyed at the touch of liquid, with absolutely no practical functionality for surf riding, nor a style that is accepted under the terms of the authentic surfer, but composed with an aesthetic that is admired among an audience that admires high designer fashion.

The term board shorts encompasses a wide gamut of designs. This is because through the history of its development it has gained a wide range of audience and the plethora of influence in the world of surfing. When an influential surfer wears a designed object in the world; whether in an admired movie, pictured in widely circulated surfing photography, or worn broadcasted on a professional surfing event in the World Surfing League (WSL); followers react by desiring that object. And when a surfer wants to advance his sport to the top of his abilities, then he yearns for the most historically innovated branded attire that will suit his condition. And this style is widely accepted among the authentic surfing community. An aesthetic that is purely function, material based. Like a doctor that can identify the common influenza at the sight of a patient, the true surfer knows exactly the style that represents a utility aesthetic. With that in mind, the implications of a designer board short shocks this surfer and undermines the intentions associated with the original object.

The following are the elements of fabrication apparent in this deconstructed board short object. The best boardshorts in the industry are expensive, yet durable. This object is constructed so that it will withstand the elements of the ocean, with a non-chaffing, stretchable, comfortable, water repellent yet light and breathable, material—usually polyester blended with materials such as elastane, spandex, lycra, or other microfibers. Its’ ergonomic fit (not too tight, not too loose), is snug with a neoprene waistband through a draw string—not velcro—for comfort and support, and equipped with precisely one small sealed back pocket to retain small objects but stay out of the way. Inherent in this design, board shorts are a lifestyle for many wearers; a central piece in the surfers closet for twelve months of the year as they travel to warm water conditions around the world. To casually throw them on in the morning, and to forget about their presence until you take them off for bed. In or out of the water; this theme has been proven in history for wearers to show their association with an exclusive group. And this aesthetic style that they show is the utility itself. Furthermore, to appeal to the customer, brands sponsor professional surfers, who will pose in a barreling crystal blue wave wearing high performance trunks and no shirt; to appeal this lifestyle aesthetic.

The deconstructed object undermines the person that understands this item, who is influenced by the professional surfer. It places trunks into a realm that this customer doesn’t associate with. A surfer; an urban, minimal, spiritual minded, beach living, sandy haired and salty soulful individual. It actively fights every aspect that a surfer desires to forget about while wearing board shorts. The sufer will not have the potential to wear them throughout the entire day without problem or hindrance, unlike a board short.

The object is aesthetic in a different realm; in the territory of fashion; not utility and sport. It is the epitome of trendsetting, in style, color, shape, but in a luxury designer space that can be worn with a Burberry modern fit linen suit jacket rather than a tank top. And it is modeled by an influencer of high fashion on the runway—who is esteemed for his catalogue of dominant roles being a high fashion model—directly negated by the image of a professional surfer posing in a barreling wave.

Formal and Material Considerations

High fashion runway designer board shorts are not rugged and only worn on occasion. A polar opposite of the following characteristics: lightweight, machine washable, water repellent, ergonomically fitting, relaxed, stretchable, and seam taped. The deconstructed designed object is: a lustrous satin exterior with a sleek face, made from silk, patched onto a neutral, earth toned burlap lining. Pleated front and back with an oversized, loose fit that extends to the middle the calf with a tapered fit, harnessing two exterior large burlap pockets at each knee which lacks a

finished closure. The fit is so loose it must be paired with a leather belt with front metal buckle. Ideal for fashion runway apparel, light reflects the satin, making for an eye-catching lustrous appearance. Areas of exposed, unlined burlap create a stark contrast that adds depth in appearance, and relation to neutral earthy surfing sentiment and historical surfing garb, yet must be worn with a hidden undergarment to avoid a scratchy sensitivity of the wearer.

What relates these shorts to board shorts is an archetypal, floral and Polynesian print pattern design printed onto the satin which is inherently indicative of historical Polynesian designs. Along with the earth-toned burlap material, the print suggests, but is not diluted, nor overpowered by the foundation that surfing was created upon in early Hawaii. They are worn inside the realm of a discourse in which fashion is prevalent in the audience. As a luxury item, this object has the highest value and pricing, but is not just powered by elusive elements such as time, craftsmanship, small series, etc., which make imperishable value. But a lot of the object lies on the fact that fashion sells by being fashionable. Not like the surfing board short that has been reiterated to innovate and stand the test of time within its audience. Rather, a fad that will not outlast the next fashionable object. The deconstructive board shorts are depicted in photographs with other objects that relate to the surfing world. Posed in pictures are models with surfboards in tropical places. Yet they are intended to be publicized in high fashion magazines and articles.

The expenses for this project include fabrication of five garments. They are not, nor will they ever be intended for production, but solely to be circulated in images. They are to be modeled and photographed for distribution. This will include advertisements in a realm that is common to the genuine surfer: authentic surfing magazines.

The intended impact associated with this deconstructed object is to undermine the historical implications that have led the modern board short and its consumer to where they are today in object and discourse. By placing this high fashion deconstructed object in advertisements in surfing magazines, directly in the view of surfers, it should evoke questions of the implications of the board short that they thought they knew well. By negating each association that is inherent among the modern trunks, as this object does, there will be initial shock value to the authentic surfer. But he should in turn think about this object and its implications socially and historically—that he will most likely reject initially—along with its counterpart.

Budget for Small Batch Garment Manufacture, Photography Shoot, and Advertising Space

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