Earlier this year my inner child was rocked to the core when I found out that RBD — the Mexican band formed out of the telenovela Rebelde — was going back on tour after more than a decade. As I fought the Ticketmaster wars to get seats, all I could think was, What should I wear?
Back in 2006, when I saw RBD live at home in Puerto Rico, I wore RBD’s fan uniform: a black tube top and denim miniskirt paired with knee-high boots, mimicking the pop rock-meets-preppy style that the band’s leading ladies (Anahí, Dulce María and Maite Perroni) paraded on stage. As they announced their 2023 comeback, I was excited for the chance to remake my 2006 look into a 'fit appropriate for my 2023 self.
Concert fashion is one of the biggest ways fans are showing their devotion to artists in 2023. "Costumes become a way of fans illustrating that they 'understand the assignment'," says Jenessa Williams, a music journalist and PhD candidate at the University of Leeds who focuses on fandom. "They’ve seen the footage and they’ve come to the show prepared, able to demonstrate their sense of belonging, knowledge, or cultural capital."
Thanks to TikTok, it’s also a digital currency, one that starts gaining value from the day a tour announcement goes live to the moment the stage lights flicker on, with people sharing outfit ideas and custom-made looks that align with the artist’s aesthetic. On the app, searches for "concert outfits" have over 26 billion views, with many of the past year’s most popular artist tours, including Bad Bunny’s World’s Hottest Tour and Beyoncé’s Renaissance, generating billions of views. "Fandom fundamentally works on a feeling of participation and self-recognition, only heightened in the age of social media and the ability to 'perform' your fandom to like-minded communities," says Williams.
@alyssachuchi Yallllllll i always knew in my brain what i was wearing but i never actually put it together until this morning here’s me sewing and spray painting half the fit😬 procrastination to its finest baby!!!! I work well under pressure if i do say so myself #theworldshottesttour #unveranosinti💔🌴☀️ #fyp #parati ♬ Me Porto Bonito - Bad Bunny & Chencho Corleone
Concert fashion is nothing new. People dressed up to see acts like Madonna and Nirvana in the '80s and '90s fashion staples those artists popularized, from lace gloves and ra-ra skirts to thrift store T-shirts and Converse shoes. Back in the early 2000s, teenagers dressed in bubblegum pink and schoolgirl looks to see Britney Spears. (In my own household around this time, my older cousins matched the club aesthetic of Y2K reggaeton — denim miniskirts and corsets — to attend the genre’s first-ever arena shows in Puerto Rico.) In the 2010s, Little Monsters sported their best avant-garde fashions, which included no-heel platforms and shutter glasses, to Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball.
Before social media, concert fashion was shared only between friends on the night of the show and memorialized through disposable cameras. Now, on TikTok, fashion fandom takes on a whole new life. Similar to Instagram’s sepia-filled early days, it started with people showing off their looks on concert day but has since extended its lifetime beyond the stadium as fans post videos about concert outfit ideas, shopping hauls, the DIY process, and GRWMs that build hype as the tour gets closer and closer to your city. "Many big stadium tours these days get announced with massive lead time so making costumes is a way to channel all the physical energy and excitement in the build-up to the big day," says Williams. "[To] feel as if you are somehow 'giving back' to an artist by matching their creativity with your own physical labor of artistic love."
Last year, when Bad Bunny held two tours, his fandom adhered to the distinct visual aesthetic of each one. First came El Último Tour Del Mundo (The Last Tour On Earth), which, as the name suggests, featured an abundance of apocalyptic and futuristic fashion, with concert-goers wearing wraparound sunglasses and lots of black. When World’s Hottest Tour kicked off a few months later, a beachy style took over concert attendees in the form of bright pink corsets, micro miniskirts, crochet tops and bucket hats. Williams likens this dedication to "Comic-Con cosplay culture." She explains, "Many artists invest heavily in the idea of world-building within their songs. It doesn’t surprise me that fans are putting more and more effort — and money — into dressing up for concerts."
@skisho27 Friendship Bracelet ideas! #erastour #erastourtaylorswift #taylorswift #taylorsversion #erastourfriendshipbracelets #erastourbracelets #friendshipbracelets✨ #friendshipbracelets #taylorswifterastour #theerastour #swiftietiktok #swiftie #lover #loveredition #taylorswiftlover #cruelsummertaylorswift #cruelsummer ♬ Cruel Summer - Taylor Swift
For Taylor Swift fans, making and exchanging friendship bracelets is one of the hallmarks of her Eras tour. This stems from a lyric in Swift’s Midnights song "You’re On Your Own, Kid," in which the artist sings, "Make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it." On TikTok, searches for "Taylor Swift friendship bracelets" have 91.5 million views, with people trading the bracelets, usually to the backdrop of Swift’s lyrics or including references to music videos and albums.
For Swifties, dressing the part to see the singer-songwriter perform songs from her 10-album discography can have higher stakes than just concert fun. "In the past, outfits have been a way for her team to select people from the crowd for meet-and-greets, and this knowledge has trickled down through other fan bases, [with fans now] going to serious sartorial lengths to be spotted by the artist or acknowledged through social media," says Williams.
This is a practice we’ve seen throughout Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour. With no music videos from the star’s latest album released prior to the tour, fans waited eagerly to see what she would wear on stage. Thanks to TikTok, they got a front-row view even if they didn’t attend the first few concerts, prompting many to make dupes of the singer’s stage costumes, which included sequined catsuits, metallic breastplates, and bee-like bodysuits. Designer Kayla Monroe created a Renaissance-themed breastplate ahead of the tour and started selling it online. "I think that’s what made me more excited for the concert," Monroe tells Refinery29.
For fans, the thought of being acknowledged by superstars from the stage — like when Beyoncé referred to TikTok account @beyoncetoronto manager as her "twin" upon spotting them in a look that matched the singer’s Gucci costume at a concert in Toronto — is undeniably thrilling but Williams warns against taking concert dressing too far. "I think fan fashion is an incredible thing for self-expression and belonging," says Williams. "But I do worry that it can become a competitive pressure, a way of alienating time- or money-poor fans."
So far, the biggest tours of the 2020s have made it clear that fandoms are coming together via their sartorial choices, making concert fashion a collective experience that’s shared both online and IRL. Come September, I’ll be wearing a grown-up version of the RBD uniform — knee-high boots and a miniskirt are on the roster — to relive my teenage dreams. And, of course, I'll be posting about it on TikTok, too.