Board Short

AKA: boardies (AUS), swim shorts, jams, baggies (S.Africa), surf shorts

How to say it:  bohrd  shawrt

Traditional Features: 

Board Short

  • shorts designed to we worn in the water
  • usually made from lightweight, quick-drying, fabric
  • waistband closed with lace or double snaps
  • velcro fly
  • side pocket with velcro closure and grommet to allow water to drain out
  • unlined
  • wide waistband sits on the hips
  • varying length, but commonly finish at mid-thigh or higher (for women)

21st Century Board Shorts

While they were initially the realm of surf brands, board shorts have become enough of a fashion item in the 21st century that regular fashion brands are increasingly including them in their summer swimwear offerings. Short, long, printed or plain, there are a large number of board shorts available for the ladies on the modern swimwear market.

J.Crew Paul Frank

J.Crew, Paul Frank

River Island Roxy

River Island, ROXY


…of the style: Board shorts were developed in the 1950s by surfers, in Hawaii. Created as a means to protect the leg hairs of the surfers as they sat on their waxed boards, the loose-fitting canvas shorts quickly evolved to include an un-elasticated waistband that closed with a lace and would withstand the drag of the waves on the garment when worn.

As these homemade shorts began to ware, the surfers would take their treasured pants to tailors to get them mended. These tailors saw a gap in the market and began to manufacture them for the surfers on the islands. As surfing became more popular in the 1960s and people travelled to Hawaii to ride the waves at the iconic beaches, people inevitably visited the tailor’s stores and crossed paths with the board shorts.

The popularity of the surfer shorts spread until they are being manufactured in other surfing meccas like California. Traditional swimwear brands like Jantzen began to work on perfecting the board short during the 60s, changing the heavy canvas of the original Hawaiian styles to a lighter weight, faster drying nylon, introducing bright, floral prints, and implementing velcro flys.

In 1969 the Australian brand Quicksilver was created and began to further adapt the board short pattern to make the performance of the shorts better. In the 1970s Quicksilver launched their first customised board shorts that closely resembled the board shorts of today. The shorts had a wider waistband that sat low on the hips and was closed with two snap pins over a velcro fly, grommeted pockets and a longer length that extended to cover the knee, thus protecting the entire back of the legs from the waxy board. American surfers Jeff Hakman and Gerry Lopez were in Australia at the time of the launch and wore Quicksilver board shorts throughout their Aussie tour before returning to America and launching their own surf wear brand – Lightning Bolt.

As surfing grew in popularity, so did the board short and new brands began to pop up in both hemispheres. Throughout the rest of the 20th century the patterns on board shorts changed with the trends as did the length, fabric technology continued to advance bringing lighter, quicker drying materials, and seams were removed to reduce the irritation caused by the stitching.

While originally developed for men, at some stage women began to surf and also began to wear board shorts. Women’s styles are essentially the same as the mens versions, although they tend to be shorter; perhaps because women like to show off their legs and often shave their legs, hence they don’t have to worry about the hairs catching on the board wax.

In the 21st century women’s board shorts are not just for lady surfers, and have crossed over into general fashion. The style has been adopted by women who like a little more coverage on their legs, and by those who like the beachy-vibe style as part of their everyday dressing. Brands outside of the traditional swimwear realm regularly include board shorts as part of their seasonal swimwear collections, often making them to match their swimwear thus offering women a complete outfit for a day at the beach.

…of the name: The shorts were developed to wear whilst riding a surf board, hence the name.

Random Facts…

  • one Hawaiian tailor’s shorts, M.Nii in Mākaha, became so well known that they were nicknamed Makaha Drowners. 

For more info on Board Shorts try Wikipedia, French Truckers, News and Musings or the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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