SKATEBOARDS, SKULLS AND POST MODERN FASHION
(Part two of a series on sport fashion)
By Dr Tom Ferraro
July 18th 2006
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So why are skateboarders and now the general public so attracted to the skull and cross bone image?


As I sit in the diner awaiting the arrival of Autumn Maglia, the chief fashion designer for Board Junkie Clothing, I find myself thinking about one thing and one thing alone. Board Junkie is one of the originators of the now infamous Skull and Cross Bones logo you see everywhere. If you stroll down the streets of Soho in lower Manhattan you will see in nearly every window the image of the skull and cross bones on dishes, hats, scarves, dresses, belts, jewelry, throw pillows and underwear. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie dressed their baby Shiloh in a skull and cross bones gown for the People Magazine photo shoot. And the fact that Board Junkie Clothing uses the skull and cross bones as its main logo makes Autumn Maglia the perfect designer to ask about the meaning of the skull and why it has grown in popularity.

We live in a fragmented world where we have no sense of history or meaning. Events fly by at the speed of light. But sport is repetitive enough and stable enough to allow us to ponder fashion choices and their meaning. In sport we can observe the manner in which athletes seek to define themselves through clothing.

As noted last week golfers choose conservative fashion in order to define themselves as part of the elite, wealthy country club set. The dress code in golf is predictable and rigid.

So what about skateboard fashion? Why all the darkness and symbols of death? The clothes chosen tend toward the extremely casual, dark, baggy and functional. Fashion is now so ubiquitous that skate board fashion has three categories:
  1. The Punk or Fresh/Hip Hop Skater partial to classic Vans, Levis and T-shirts from old rock bands.
  2. The Hippy/Rasta Skaters who wear I-Path shoes, black socks, cords and Bob Marley shirts.
  3. The Artsy Skaters who love to wear black shoes, slim slacks and tight fitting t-shirts. Most of these kids wear long hair and sport tattoos. Yes we have entered the dark side.
At this point in my breakfast my musings are interrupted by Autumn who arrives in a hustle toting her design portfolio and sample garments, There it all was, dark colored t-shirts, army caps, and hoodies all with that ever present Skull and Cross Bones logo smiling out at me.

Autumn founded her company in 2004 with the dream to give radical skateboarders clothing that reflects their lifestyle. She quickly remarked "Skateboarding fashion and lifestyle unite. The sport of skateboarding represents today's youth with all its rebellion and all its edginess." I was most interested in her comments on the death images she created and she went on to say "Skateboard fashion is anything that is in your face. Anything loud and even obnoxious, things that stand out, get people angry and get their attention." I pushed this further to see if she could tell me about the moment she created her famous logo. She told me "When I was choosing between various logos to represent my company, the skull and cross bones just leaped out at me and insisted on being chosen."

I could see that skateboarding fashion combined the functional with the character of youth. The younger generation always represents freedom, honesty and rebellion. I would not say that this form of fashion is the opposite of golf fashion. Surely golf fashion is a republican message. A message of wealth, elitism and exclusion. The clothing is expensive and dry cleaned. But is skateboard fashion best described as liberal, left wing or democratic? This actually implies that these kids want to vote. Don't be ridiculous. All those tattoos, skulls and black colors imply something far more extreme, something nihilistic. I would say that skateboard fashion brings with it a nihilism that is worth thinking about. And the fact that Autumn's skulls are creeping into mainstream fashion is worth pondering as well.

Nihilism is defined as the total rejection of established laws and institutions. It embraces an extreme skepticism and denial of existence. The father of the nihilist movement was Friedrich Nietzsche perhaps the greatest thinker of the 19th Century. He predicted that we have entered a three phase period defined as religious, radical and complete nihilism. He was the guy who first proclaimed that God is dead and suggested that religious thinking would be overthrown by science and this would place us in a secular and valueless world. The global world war now being fought is best described as a war between fundamentalist religions versus the secular. This suggests that Nietzsche was probably right. Baudrillard and Spengler have developed his theory into a post modern thesis and if you feel this is all too high minded you ought to realize that the Matrix films you have enjoyed so much were based upon concepts borrowed from Baudrillard.

So these somber moody young skateboarders, this lost generation, are the perfect manifestations of Nietzsche's nihilism with their black clothing and skulls and cross bones. And as the fashion of nihilism and all those skulls grind its way into the mainstream, it's a good thought to ponder. It has often been said that the secular world has no values or at best, values only money. Spengler warned us that the West has entered its spiritual winter. And it must be tempting for these skateboarders to embrace destruction and nothingness expressed in their fashion attitude. But I then asked Autumn to describe the personality of the skateboarder and here is what she said "These are basically good kids. They are not committing crimes. They just want to have some fun, be a part of a cool group and get better at skateboarding." And maybe that's enough meaning to live by after all.