One summer Sunday morning three friends and I were standing outside the skatepark when we saw a woman crash her Vespa on the street.
We ran over to offer her water and whatever other help we could. She was bloodied from head to toe, but she had a helmet on and would be OK once the scabs healed. As we walked back to the skatepark, a collective shiver ran through the group as we contemplated wrecking a scooter at 30 miles per hour while wearing her outfit of a tank top, shorts, and flip-flops.
Said one friend in horror, “I’m not even comfortable skating in shorts.”
My friend’s visceral reaction to exposed knees and unprotected shins is the practical foundation of one of skateboarding’s unwritten rules: don’t skate in shorts. While the goal of keeping one’s body intact is understandable, there’s also a long-held belief that shorts are just aesthetically… wrong.
“I vividly remember when you’re a kid hearing dialogue about anyone skating in shorts—for our generation it was a no-no,” said Jimmy Gorecki, 36, a skater who rode for Aesthetics and Zoo York and now owns the sweatpants line JSP.
By my best estimate, there’s been about 25 years of skating-in-pants hegemony. Using Thrasher Magazine’s cover index as a skate fashion chronicle, the inflection point is 1993, when not a single skater in shorts appeared on the cover. The covers from the years immediately prior feature a noisy and democratic mix of skate fashion. After 1993, shorts tended to appear on the cover once a year at most, often involving unusual circumstances, like John Cardiel skating a Frankenstein ramp in the rain, Danny Way backside noseblunt-sliding a car, Jamie Thomas on the cover of a “King of the Road” issue grinding a rail in shorts, barefoot too.
What happened in 1993 likely had something to do with skateboarding’s distillation at the time—street skating had finally strangled vert. The burgeoning pastime became dominated by a standard look that would eventually coalesce into “the uniform,” a stock blank tee paired with baggy khakis or jeans.
In the early years of this century, there were also social controls at work. Real Skateboards pro Davis Torgerson, 29, told me photographer Eric “Rodent” Cheslak once shot a photo of him doing a switch backside 50-50. He intended to get it published in the now-defunct The Skateboard Mag, only to have it rejected because he’d failed to properly cover his legs. “It was 100-plus that day and in the Valley,” Torgerson said in his defense.
I emailed Cheslak, a former TSM staff photographer, for confirmation, and while he didn’t remember the specific situation with Torgerson, he said gear standards were kept at the magazine. “They were not into shorts unless you were [photographers Dave] Swift or Atiba [Jefferson], they could do whatever they wanted,” Cheslak said. “They also weren’t into beater tank tops either. I had an amazing photo of Eli Reed and they wouldn’t use it because he had a beater on.”
Reached for comment, Swift, who was The Skateboard Mag’s editor at the time, said he had never heard of such a policy. “I do remember skaters talking shit about skaters who wore shorts but never has there been a rule.” He said that he ran photos of pros like Geoff Rowley and Matt Mumford wearing shorts in the late 90s, but added that, “As for the 2000s, I don’t remember a lot of street dudes wearing shorts in that decade.”
While The Skateboard Mag’s “no pants, no shirt, no coverage” policy may have existed only in the minds of its contributors, in other outlets it was more explicit. Out of a #skatetwitter conversation about skating in shorts came the apocryphal-sounding story that Dan Magee, the maker of UK-based brand Blueprint Skateboards’ string of classic videos in the 2000s including Waiting for the World and Lost and Found, enforced a no shorts, no shirtless footage rule. Now a freelancer in London, Magee confirmed the story over email. “Yeah, totally true,” he said. “Have you seen what shorts looked like in 2000-2008?”
Only in certain conditions did the fashion gatekeepers make room for breathability. “Jean shorts were always big on the East Coast back in the day,” said Gorecki, name-checking former Alien Workshop rider Pat Corcoran, who rocked a pair by Guess during the halcyon days of Love Park. “Those humid summers, it was hard to skate in pants,” he added. “You were almost forced to make the adjustments.” Per Gorecki, acceptable adjustments also included Chad Muska-inspired cut-off cargos, or basketball shorts, all erring on the baggier side.
Going by the Thrasher covers, a mag-worthy shorts exception has been transition skating—often with knee pads, though not always. Gorecki pointed out a particular look that includes cut-off Dickies with jacked up socks. Think Andy Roy or Sammy Baca, as seen on Baca’s January 2010 cover. Gorecki said the knee-high, frequently striped-at-the-top socks were all those guys “needed for their own personal protection and well-being.”
Nicole Hause eschews the knee pad loophole. The 21-year-old Nike SB and Antihero rider, often seen on a ramp or in a bowl, told me that though she wore some longish shorts that accommodated hip pads through her middle teen years, she’s now all about skating in slacks, both for protection on bigger ramps and because “I just like the way it looks better.” Even though Hause doesn’t partake—“I guess my trademark is I try to find super sick pants all the time”—she chalked up the shift toward shorts to skating’s size, and its fragmentation. “There’s so many niches in skateboarding nowadays that you can fit into whatever niche, and nobody cares.”
For skateboarders of a younger generation, the old dictum no longer holds. Some of today’s best skaters are actively undermining the no-shorts policy everyday. Ishod Wair is the king of the casual short; Lucas Puig wears them extra short, looking like a soccer player on perpetual holiday. Then there’s Nyjah Huston, whose subversion of skate style has now progressed to compression tights under running shorts. Instagram is full of leg, from four-foot backside noseblunts with exposed thighs to MACBA locals who spin fakie 360 flips in Daisy Dukes.
“Kids nowadays, their rules of engagement with fashion are way different,” said Gorecki. “Almost everything is on the table.”
Hause, Gorecki, and Torgerson all lauded the current vanguard of shorts-wearing skaters, though they admit shorts aren’t for everyone. “I’ll watch Lucas and think shorts are badass,” said Torgerson, “and then I wear them and want to put pants on.”
It’s probably worth noting that Wair, Puig, and Huston all ride for either Nike or adidas. Skateboarding struggles with being called a sport, but the influence of the sports world is undeniable. We’re now less than two years away from skateboarding’s 2020 Olympics debut in Tokyo. It remains unclear what Team USA’s skateboarders will wear, but shorts might be an option, according to Josh Friedberg, a former pro skater and director of skateboarding for World Skate, the International Olympic Committee–recognized federation responsible for the global development of skateboarding.
Each country’s national federation will ultimately choose what its skaters wear, Friedberg told me over Instagram direct message. “In the U.S. we’re going to start reviewing options next month. [We] haven’t spoken specifically about shorts, but the goal is for our skaters to be comfortable in what they wear, so if that’s their preference it’s definitely something we’d consider.”
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.