The 1960s Surfer Shirt

In the mid 1960s we called this the surfer shirt, and it was all the rage in my little town. No matter that we were six hours from the nearest ocean, and none of us had ever been anywhere near a surf board.  We were under the influence of the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach movies of the day, and the Beach Boys were as strong as ever.    I think my older brother had these shirts in every color and in several madras plaids, and I had a couple of plaid ones myself.

I found this pattern and thought how much fun it would be to just run one up for old times sake.  I already had some vintage cotton chambray and red bias binding, thanks to my proclivity toward fabric hoarding, so I was in business.  The shirt was just as easy to make as it looks, with only four pieces.  It did take some time, as I put the bias on by hand, and did the buttonholes by hand, and did flat-felled seams so there are no raw edges.

In looking for images for this post, I tried looking on-line, but all the photos for surfer shirt came up as either Hawaiian shirts or tee shirts with a surfer dude printed on the front.  So I went to my stack of vintage catalogs.  In a 1964 Montgomery Ward, I did find one of these referred to as “surfer style” but most were called “regatta shirts.”  The same was true in a 1966 JC Penney big book.  I’m very sure we never used the term “regatta” to refer to these shirt or anything else for that matter!  And in one listing it was called a “henley” which I always think of as being made of jersey.

So I’ll stick with surfer shirt, though I do not surf, and won’t see an ocean until October.  It’s still a cool, casual shirt, just right for the hot days ahead.

I used to see these all the time in thrift stores, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t run across one in several years.  Surely not all the Baby Boomers have cleaned out all the closets at the parents’ homes already!

A few catalog examples:

Madras  regatta shirts with appropriate slacks and sweaters, 1966 JC Penney

“Henley collar” shirt, 1965 Montgomery Wards

“Surfer style” 1965 Montgomery Wards

“Racy Regatta Styles” 1966 JC Penney

I’m sure you are are clamoring for a look at the finished product.  So here I am, in the back yard, standing on the beginnings of a new rock patio.  Funny how the photo in which I’m not paying attention to the photographer ends up being the best of the lot.  A model, I am not!


Filed under Sewing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

31 responses to “The 1960s Surfer Shirt

  1. I do remember these and you have sparked a search for boxes of old patterns I know are around here somewhere. I grew up very near the beach and spent many, many a day there, especially during my teen years. We all met at 14th street in Sunset Beach, CA. Ocean Pacific was the big name in beach wear. All the cool guys wore it. I still think of surfer shirts as either plaid or floral, but really, the classic t-shirt was king. As usual, Vintage Traveler, thanks for the memories!


  2. I love the chambray with the red trim, it looks great on you!


  3. Oh wow! You’ve done a great job Lizzie. I love your chosen colour combination. You look great! 🙂


  4. Em

    I had no idea these were called surfer shirts. I love the one you made and the red trim is perfect. I may have to acquire a plaid one for myself.


  5. Another fan of the chambray + red trim here–so classic, and such a smart way to stay crisp and cool in the summer! Looks great on you, Lizzie.


  6. Maggie

    Thanks for jogging my memory of these shirts. I’m a sucker for anything from the 60’s….the old”coming of age” era for me I guess. Now I’m on the hunt for this pattern…gotta make my own.


  7. Thanks for introducing me to this shirt. There’s always something to learn here at The Vintage Traveller.


  8. Bill B.

    In 1966 my mom worked in a clothing store in Ketchikan Alaska . I was 11 🙂 We were lucky to get the latest styles and had several of these called Henley boys shirts. I always favored a black one with black slacks and shoes… Oh and my Malteze surfers cross. Guess I thought I was a secret agent! Bill


  9. Tina

    FINALLY !! I found something about vintage surfer shirts!! I’ve got an original shirt that my sister wore during the Beach Boys heyday !! It’s chambray blue and white striped and was made by Val Mark Exclusive. I am going to sell it on eBay, and was looking to find out what it might be worth.. Looks like i have the only one in the world !! lol …


  10. rick

    How do i get some of these shirts


  11. Tom Crozat

    Been looking for these on and off for a few years. I’d like to get a couple, or the pattern and have someone make it for me. Please help, now that you’ve put out the teaser.


  12. Jake

    Holy moly!

    I only just saw “The Endless Summer” a year ago. I immediately went crazy for the shirts they wore, but I couldn’t find any specific name for them… and here’s your post, after searching “60s surfer style” on Google!

    The internet is awesome sometimes. 🙂 THANKS!


  13. All the surfer kids in South Florida (where I grew up) wore these shirts in the mid 1960s. Almost always in navy blue or maroon. I have no idea where they got them, and I have not been able to locate a single one in 40+ years. Weird. I still want one in size Men’s Large, but can’t find one anywhere. Any help, please?


  14. i wish they would bring them back,and maybe make some out of the dri-fit ,i loved them,and my mom bought a pattern and made me about four or five of them for me back in the 60’s.


  15. Rick

    Do you know where I can buy one of these shirts? I grew up in the 60s and we use to wear them . Thanks


  16. Collin Courter

    Hi, I really like this shirt and am interested but can’t find a place to buy it! Please help


  17. Dan O

    Thanks for posting. I’ve been remembering these lately and hoe cool they were at the time in central Texas. 1965 I guess. Very comfortable. Not a Henley at all. It was always called a Surfer Shirt. I want a white knit with navy trim!


  18. These are NOT to be found on eBay. Someone out there has some, Whoever you are, you have buyers!


  19. James jackson

    How do I find a seller/colors/size options/and cost for any of the surfer shirts. Use to wear in mid 60’s. James


  20. Betsie Letterle

    I would love to have a pattern for this shirt – I’ve searched all over and can’t find one – I remember getting my first one and though it was sooooo cool! Any idea where I can get the pattern?


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