Ask any American woman what her idea of “summer fashion” is, and you’re likely to hear a lot of similar answers — something bright, youthful, energetic, and probably ideal for a beach trip. This time of year vibrant colors, mini dresses and flashy florals fit for coconut cocktails and conga lines are adorning stylish ladies from coast to coast. Whether we know it or not, when we sport popular summer wear, we’re often wearing fashions that can be attributed to one locale: Southern California. Even those of us in Eastern North Carolina, thousands of miles removed from the shores of Santa Monica, are awash in California style.
Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, California has been influencing popular fashion since the early 20th century, once the American film industry settled on the West Coast, and American women began to watch their favorite film stars cavort in the Los Angeles sunshine. With film production came designers, and a local fashion industry soon sprang up. By the 1930’s, “play-clothes,” outdoor-friendly, wearable fashions aimed at active women, made their way from Southern California to middle America.
Hollywood would popularize California fashion even more in the 1960’s, when youth-oriented beach films romanticized the image of perky, tanned teenagers surfing the California coast. 1959’s Gidget, starring a 17-year-old Sandra Dee as a petite Malibu Beach surfer, spawned a long-lived movie franchise and surf fashion fascination. Similarly, the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello “Party” films, the mid-60’s Gidget television show, the surf music genre (made most popular by the Beach Boys), and other California-oriented trends, would infiltrate the American fashion landscape with styles that went far beyond bathing suits and swim covers.
California style has less to do with particular items — the sundresses, the tank tops, the sport shirts, the Hawaiian florals — than it does with the energy and purported lifestyle associated with it. Countless film and television shows have infiltrated popular culture with all things California, and that easy breezy California style can extend beyond the boundaries of Los Angeles to encompass a laid back, informal, “beachy” look that anyone can attain.
Today, California remains home to many popular labels, from American Apparel to True Religion to Trina Turk, and continues to be an important arbiter for popular mainstream fashion. So the next time we put together beach-ready summer outfits (or just daydream about ditching work for a surfing excursion), we can thank the Golden State for helping to make summer fashions what they are.