When packing for Coachella this year, I found myself at a crossroads. Looking into my closet felt like a modern-day, millennial moral dilemma. On one side, I had remnants of my youth: neon leotards, glittery fanny packs, even a flower crown or two. On the other sat my current uniform: Flattering jeans that actually suit me, good quality T-shirts, sneakers I spent too much money on. But which side would I be bringing with me to Palm Springs? Okay, I lied. It wasn’t much of a decision at all. Because when it actually came time to pack for the three-day extravaganza, I was so done with “festival fashion,” the only things I ended up bringing were Everlane basics and some denim. For a brief moment on my way to the airport, I felt sad. Was I being a Debbie downer? Should I have whipped out the tie-dyed maxi-dress one last time? As soon as I stepped onto the plane to Palm Springs, that feeling vanished. Row after row of Flash Tattoos greeted me, and as I tried to figure out how 5B got her metal body chain through security, I felt totally happy with my lack of thematic wear. When I got to the actually festival, I felt even better: In a crowd doused in fake turquoise jewelry, offensive headdresses, and overly pre-faded concert tees, it was me, in my black top and jeans, who stood out. In recent years, the “festival fashion” sector has all but exploded. Early each spring, nearly every site I visit to browse for new clothes becomes dominated by peasant dresses, floral rompers, and incomprehensible crop tops. I have to hand it to the industry for optimizing: What started as a little sliver of business has turned into a behemoth cash generating machine. I have no idea how much money is spent on festival gear per annum, but I think it’s safe to say it’s up there.
Most festivals, but Coachella in particular, are now selling way more than just music. Sure, you may be one of the 10 people who “just care about the bands,” but these events have started to promote little slices of a certain lifestyle. First, la vie celebrity: Stars have been imperative in helping whip up the commercial possibility. Kendall Jenner wears $2,500 studded Saint Laurent booties to the Sahara Tent; the next day, all anyone wants to talk about (or buy) are studded booties. And if you can’t quite afford the Saint Laurent version, luckily every brand is able to quickly create a shockingly similar pair. Now you feel cool like Kendall. The funny thing about Coachella, though, is that it’s in the middle of the desert, usually about 97 degrees, and comes with a high probability of a dust storm. Now let’s soak in the fact that somehow we’ve gotten to a place where we feel the need to spend hundreds of dollars on outfits to go sweat in the dirt. Exactly. Secondly, there's the whole modern-day Woodstock thing. Let’s really break this down: At the most basic level, I understand the connection. Music + Outdoor Venue = Hippie Vibes. Understood. However, the irony comes into play when we take an honest look at what Coachella has become. Some questions: Do hippies spend a ridiculous amount of money on clothes? Do they gawk at celebrities? Do they take 100 Instagrams wearing plastic flower crowns and an absurd amount of white crochet? The whole birth of this movement came from wanting to be different. But now, more than ever, everyone looks exactly the same. The aesthetic that has come to rule Coachella, on top of being expensive and sort of phony, is just plain overdone. Even if you disagree with the aforementioned points, it’s clear to see that the style is completely saturated. I felt cool in my simple outfit because everyone else was decked in predictable fringe. When Kate Moss wore a gold minidress and Wellington boots to Glastonbury 10 years ago, it was completely epic because no one had ever done it before. When Sienna Miller wore neon yellow sunglasses and a huge studded hippie belt, it was awesome because it was new. Now the whole look is just stale. Flower crowns? For a festival? Come on.
On the last day, while I was waiting in line for a $12 lemonade, I saw something that made me smile. Three girls, probably about 15, were getting money from their parents for snacks. They were all wearing Coachella T-shirts — like the actual official T-shirt with the names of all the bands on the back. They were so excited to just be there, reveling in the awesomeness of Ellie Goulding from the night before, laughing the whole time. They seemed totally oblivious to all the overdressed posers around them. They were just smiling and having fun being together. It reminded me that being at Coachella is really about having fun with your friends, and made me hope that the festival will be able to survive this tsunami of felt hats and bolo necklaces. So, festivalgoers, leave your flower crowns at home. You don’t need a $400 For Love and Lemons romper to have a good time. All you need is some friends and a T-shirt. I promise you’ll feel like a million bucks. I certainly did.