On a normal night out, most of us agonize about what to wear. Will my arms look too big in this dress? Is this jumpsuit too out there for a trip to the pub? But at a festival, you can just stick on a ridiculous shirt, some crazy patterns, and have the time of your life! Festivals free us of our inhibitions. No one should care about how they look in shorts, or that their wellies don’t match their outfit whilst they’re dancing to their favourite artists. However, the rise of the celebrity festival fashion has imposed style rules on what should be a fun weekend. Are festivals at risk of losing their inclusivity?
A not so carefree culture?
Festival fashion has been a symbol of self expression since the '60s. Hippies who rejected mainstream society came together to enjoy a love of music. The original Woodstock and Glastonbury festivals were so iconic that they have influenced fashion and popular culture forever. The message was all about love, inclusivity. and freedom. No rules, no judgement or hatred.
But is the recent obsession with festival style taking away from the enjoyment?
Since the early 2000s, festivals such as Glastonbury have become open air fashion shows. Celebrities like Kate Moss led the way with ‘the festival look’ that has become a key part of the fashion industry. Paparazzi flock to the fields to get a glimpse of the best and worst sartorial choices and every year, celebs compete to become the icon of the festival season. It has become less about not conforming to rules and more about achieving the perfect boho image.
The Coachella effect
A quick internet search for festival style results in pages of strict rules. 'What to wear for the over thirties', 'Why are flower crowns out of style?' and ‘10 worst Coachella outfits’. The LA star-studded festival is more famous for its celebrity fashion moments than its musical performances. This image conscious version of the music festival appears to be becoming the new normal across the world.
Moreover, these images show a worrying lack of diversity. The highly-stylized prototype of the Coachella girl (thin, blonde, and pretty) takes away from the fun of festivals and isolates a massive section of society. In fact, many Coachella inspired ‘festival fashion’ lines don’t even include plus sized clothes. This sends a message that you have to look a certain way to fit in. And it’s certainly not inclusive.
“Almost all media representation I see of Coachella centres on thin white women.” Sarah Chiwaya, plus sized blogger
Beyoncé may have made history in 2018 as the first black woman to headline Coachella. But her Netflix documentary “Homecoming” revealed that even Queen Bey felt the body image pressure, as she described undergoing a rigorous diet in preparation for the festival. Beyoncé may be breaking boundaries with her music, but this emphasis on image perpetuates rigid beauty standards. Sadly, it is likely to influence others, particularly young festival goers to feel the same pressure to have a ‘festival ready body’.
“In order for me to meet my goal, I’m limiting myself to no bread, no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, no alcohol. And I’m hungry.” Beyoncé
The issue with consumerism
Buying new outfits for each event carries a massive cost – both financially and environmentally. The emergence of festival fashion as a whole new season encourages more unsustainable shopping. For those who want the boho look for high street prices, H&M launched an entire festival fashion line called “H&M Loves Coachella” and ASOS has a dedicated 'festival' section on their website. The pieces are almost fancy dress like, (think mesh bralettes and glitter bikinis), making them harder to re-wear in other settings. Unfortunately, many garments will simply get thrown out by next year's festivals.
“One in four of those surveyed would feel embarrassed wearing an outfit to a special occasion more than once.” Censuswide
Festivals are rapidly losing touch with their communal, DIY roots. So called 'queen of Coachella style', actress and Instagram influencer, Vanessa Hudgens worked with retail giant Amazon on a publicity campaign during their 2018 festival. The billionaire owned company has been criticized for underpaying workers, creating vast waste, and polluting the earth with fossil fuels. This corporate collaboration shows just how much festivals have changed from their earth loving, anti-establishment hippie days.\
Time for a change
Festivals have come a long way since the age of flower power. And while it may mean we get better toilet facilities these days, not all advancements have been good. Maybe it's time to drop the image obsession and return to the freedom of the '60s hippy era.
At a festival, no one should feel insecure or like they don’t fit in. They should be spaces for all styles, all people, from all backgrounds to enjoy live music. It's been a miserable 18 months of no festivals thanks to the pandemic, it's only right that they should return to be even crazier, more outrageous, and fun. And no one should worry about their outfit being judged.