Why the Worlds of Fashion and Surfing Need Each Other

Earlier this year, six-time world champion surfer Stephanie Gilmore traded in her bikini for a burgundy one-shoulder Marchesa gown and accompanied Kelly Slater to the Met Ball. This wasn’t the first time the worlds of fashion and surf collided—Tommy Hilfiger’s S/S 14 collection and the recent resurgence of neoprene in ready-to-wear immediately come to mind—and it certainly won’t be the last. As more and more women join the sport, the demand for apparel that marries fashion and function continues to grow, giving way to cool collections like Roxy’s Pop Surf and Cynthia Rowley’s colorful wetsuits. For a deeper dive into this topic, we chatted with Gilmore after our editorial shoot about surfing the fashion wave, her style off the beach, and more. Keep reading for our exclusive interview.

Who What Wear: You spend most of your time in a swimsuit, but tell us about your style off the beach?

Stephanie Gilmore: Due to traveling so much, I like to keep my wardrobe “quality over quantity.” [I like] a color scheme that blends and works for every occasion with some flavor pieces to add in and mix it up. Those pieces that fit perfectly, feel good, and transcend location.   

WWW: Are you someone who pays attention to designers and trends?

SG: I love reading, viewing great fashion editorials, and being inspired by what the brilliant designers and influencers of the world are creating. I know what suits me and what my general style feel is, so if it doesn’t work for me, I appreciate it but don’t buy into it. 

WWW: Your Met Gala dress was amazing! This was your first time attending the major fashion event: What was that experience like for you?

SG: Thank you! The night was magical. I wore Marchesa. I adore the romantic feel of their gowns, and it was fitting for such a night. Those events allow you to meet fabulously interesting people from all areas—sport, fashion, film, music, and business—it was very humbling being in a room with such talented and interesting people. Moments like that get my heart and head ticking.

Credits: Creatures of the Wind jacket; Roxy Pop Surf Sunkissed Binded Tiki Triangle Top ($46) and Vanilla Denim Shorts ($44).

WWW: Do you enjoy dressing up for the red carpet? What do you like your outfits to convey on these occasions? 

SG: I do. Going from my surf competition lifestyle, where how you look is so secondary to the waves and what’s happening with the ocean and your goals, to red carpets, the day is so different. They are not only fun but also an experience—going to a fitting, choosing your look, and working with talented artists for styling, hair, makeup, etc. I love watching other experts work in these situations; you learn so much and meet wonderful people.  

WWW: You mentioned in a few interviews that you love the fashion side of surfing. How do you think that side has evolved now that more and more women are joining the sport?

SG: Surfing has come SO far since I started; it’s so bright, playful, and carefree—highly representative of how us surfers connect with the ocean when free surfing. In the last eight years there have been huge changes in swimwear, it’s smaller and more feminine, and the surf-specific attire has followed. And the best part is it’s coming from an authentic place. The Roxy designers are surfers, long boarding Biarritz, France in the summer. The Mikoh girls are in Hawaii or Malibu surfing better than the men in the lineup with style and grace. Kassia Meador’s style in the water is transparent in her wetsuit line. And the mermaid vision that is Hanalei Reponty in imagery and her brand is iconic. Not to mention her ability on a surfboard. It’s very cool that the rest of the world is recognizing and joining in on this lifestyle that I was so lucky to grow up with.  

Credits: Current/Elliott T-shirt; Roxy bathing suit.

WWW: Thanks to brands like Roxy, Billabong, and now Cynthia Rowley, surf apparel isn’t just functional, it’s quite fashionable too. What do you look for in your own gear?

SG: I’m surfing waves of consequence, especially when competing with cameras pointed on me, so I need something that will stay in place at all times. Back to that athletic idea, a brand like Roxy truly knows what we surfers do and they have broken the fashion and function boundaries to create lines like Pop Surf. It’s also that sportswear feeling, when something looks good and feels supportive it makes you want to be active, progressive, and energetic, similar to fitness wear. Add the sunny beach and ocean color palette, and it makes for great design and collections.  

WWW: What do you think makes the fashion world so appealing to the surf world? And vice versa, what do you think makes the surf world so appealing to designers?

SG: I believe there is a creative appreciation and freedom between the two. Surfing is a lifestyle as much as it is a sport, and both surfing and fashion involve progressive thinking and restraint. Our lifestyle as surfers is equally glamorous and hard work. The ocean is our office, travel is our inspiration, and the wave is our creative outlet. The imagery we produce is inspiring and I think designers can relate. I know I do when I see designers' new collections and campaigns.    

Credits: Valentino dress (similar style). 

WWW: Who are some of the stylish women you look up to?

SG: There are so many. I love Angelina Jolie, her lifestyle, personal style, and projects. Diane von Furstenberg is aging ever so gracefully. And the girls of right now, like Gigi Hadid (her look and vibe), Sophia Amoruso (her business and influential mind), and Rihanna (just awesome). Those are just a few in my mind right now. 

WWW: What was your last big fashion purchase?

SG: A Jake Museur bespoke blazer from the designer at his West Village atelier. Also, Dylan Kain’s The West Leather Carryall ($600). 

Credits: Chloe top. 

Photographer: Curtis Buchanan (@curtisbuchanan); Stylist: Kris Zero (@kriskriskris).

What's your favorite surf-inspired trend? Tell us in the comments below!