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Wasn’t Festival Fashion Supposed to Be Bold and Rebellious?

Once upon a time, music festivals were the heaven of nonconformists and political agitators. An occasion not only to listen to your favourite bands but also to unite with people from your same tribe. At that time, dressing up for festivals meant… Nothing.

People didn’t dress up for festivals. They wore the first thing within their reach. The most thoughtful took into consideration weather conditions, but that was all.

At least this is what my parents and old pictures of 70’s festivals testimony, I am a millennial.

And millennials dressed up for festivals. We actually plan our festival outfits the moment we buy the tickets. And then we spend money to assemble camp, flamboyant outfits that we wear only one time.

We post it on Instagram and tag it #DAY1, because we obviously have to wear a different outfit for each festival’s day. When the festival is over, we dump all these clothes, and we start planning the look for the next event!

What was once self-expression or individualism has now become a competition. Pictures of celebrities set the season trends, fast fashion brands intercept these trends and create cheap polyester summer clothes, and fashion media top it off by realising festival fashion guides. Result? Hundreds of people wearing variations of the same trendy outfits.

But weren’t festivals meant to be rebellious and uninhibited? A celebration of freedom? How did we end up from the naked man who clambered the Woodstock‘s crowd to a bunch of celebrities in luxury clothes? Can we go back?

Do we want to go back?

It’s all started with Sienna Miller

It was 2004 when Sienna Miller became the muse of contemporary bohemian style, wearing a mini black dress, oversized coin-studded belt and neon yellow aviator glasses at Glastonbury. A year later, Kate Moss was crowned queen of Glastonbury for matching a pair of Hunters with a waistcoat and hot pants.

Their outfits, even if a bit messy, marked the beginning of a self-conscious festival fashion. With the attention received by the mass media and the public, celebrities started to pay attention to their festival outfits. People were interested to know what celebrities were wearing at these events, and more importantly, they wanted to emulate them.

The fashion industry immediately jumped on this huge market audience, offering emulations of these looks and adding big festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury to the fashion calendar. Fast fashion brands started selling flower crowns, cheap glitter clothes, ‘wacky’ sunglasses. In no time, they transformed fashion items once a symbol of individuality and protest against commercialism into mass products.

Crocheted tops, macrame vests and tie-dye t-shirts that we see in almost every Coachella pictures were first adopted by the festival attendees at Woodstock to celebrate the handmade. Valorising centuries-old craftsmanship as a form of rebellion to the capitalist assertion of identity, that was the spirit. Now you can buy them on Asos for £10.

From celebration of individuality to uniform, to marketing product to politic statement

In the 2010s, with the arrival of Instagram and influencer marketing, companies found new ways to capitalise on live events. They sponsor influencers to wear their products and organise exclusive events for high-profile attendees. Big companies, like H&M and Revolte, directly sponsor the events, asking in exchange to place on-site stands.

Independently by the chosen way, the intent is always the same: to engage with the festival attendees that once at home will associate the emotions they felt at the festival with the brands they saw during that time; and to generate digital content to engage with the millions of people who experienced the festival digitally across the world.

Yet, despite this brutal commercialisation, some people still find a way to make fashion festivals original and powerful.

It’s the case of festivals like Burning Man, which doesn’t allow fashion brands to capitalise on the event to protect its attendees’ originality and wildness.

Artists like Beyoncé and Stromzy used the stage of Coachella and Glad to make political statements. Beyoncé celebrated black power and creativity, while Stromzy wore a Union Jack stab-proof vest to highlighted Britain’s knife crime crisis. Moments that have the same social relevance as the 1970’s riot organised by the Rock Against Racism to allow black and white musicians to play together.

Embrace festival fashion escapism

“Music festivals: the sound of escapism” was the title of an old Guardian’s article. It explained that people’s love for festival derives from the desire to escape ordinary life. An opportunity, maybe the only available, to shake off daily life responsibilities and be whoever you want to be. Then why don’t we reflect this mood in our clothes?

At the next festival escape conventional fashion rules and experiment with your look. Have Fun!

When concerts and festivals will retake place and stay in a field with thousands of people will be safe again, avoid copying the first look you find on Pinterest. Stay away from the annual Vogue or GQ list of “Music festival do’s and don’t’s”. Try to figure out what you would like to wear!

Don’t buy fast fashion clothes, but opt for hand made clothes, easily foundable on popular platforms like Etsy. If you have the time and consider yourself creative, try to create something by yourself.

On ePlaya, the official online community messaging board of the most picturesque and colourful festival, the Burning Man, DIY costumes are the best bet.

“Seriously, all you need is a pair of scissors & an open mind. You can buy fabric-glue sticks for any gun. (…) Select colours and textures you like, and sculpt for comfort & utility.” A suggestion from an ePlaya’s member

But if DIY is still not your thing and handmade clothes are too expensive, don’t panic!

Remember, you are going to a music festival!

The only public occasion where you can match your old camping tee with stained baggy trousers and dirt rain boots and being appreciated as the one who is living the authentic festival spirit.


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