How “Festival” Became Fashion’s Unofficial Fifth Season

For eons, the fashion calendar has been distilled into four seasons. But fashion’s fifth season — though undocumented — remains just as significant: the beloved festival season. Call it F/S '19.
Naturally, festival fashion varies from location to location — hit Indio, California and you’ll find crocheted halters and platform flip-flops, while on New York’s Randall’s Island, tiny half-moon sunglasses reign supreme. Find yourself in Chicago and vintage tanks and bucket hats will take their place. Geographic placement aside, there will be flower crowns.
But for all the renditions of festival fashion we’ve seen plastered across our Instagram feeds, the outdoor fest uniform has a far grander history than we tend to acknowledge. In fact, the music festival scene itself has been prominent since the early '60s — and the favored dress of the time has morphed, year after year, to reflect the most influential headliners of the moment. Think mid-'70s flare jeans, '80s scrunchies, the checkered sneakers of the early aughts.
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In an effort to determine how, exactly, our current iteration of fashion’s unofficial fifth season came to be, we’ve built a festival fashion retrospective: a little walk down music fest memory lane, ranging from the '60s to present day. Scroll through for a look at how plastic chokers and the Nike AirMax came to rule on festival grounds.
In the '60s, if you weren’t busy protesting corporate America or perhaps following a certain British quartet around the globe, you likely at least made it to a festival or two. It’s all peace, love, and music, man. Which is to say, you were probably barefoot at most concerts you attended.
Beyond the lack of footwear, the '60s fest scene was dominated, in large part, by things like loud tie-dye T-shirts, suede jackets (fringe and all), and — naturally — flower crowns (though it’s safe to assume most of these were woven together by foragers rather than one-click-purchased from mass retailers online). To drive the whole prairie shtick home, white cropped peasant blouses and ultra-flared denim were equally popular — all of which, when combined, complete an aesthetic that seems to say “I only bathe occasionally, but my soul is clean.”
While the '70s — both in fashion and in sensibility — skewed groovy, the big-name musical acts of the time were more often categorized as capital-P Punk. You know: scrawny long-legged boys in ripped jeans and denim jackets, sporting haircuts that looked like the work of hacksaw operators.
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Naturally, festival fashion at the time followed suit. Beyond classic, structured leather jackets and thoroughly over-distressed denim (fishnets underneath!), you’d see chunky black boots, band T-shirts, and tailored red plaid pants. The sort of rebel without a cause uniform universally hated by the doting mothers of high school students.
What’s not to love about the '80s? Perms! Neon! Aerobics! Like its music, the decade’s clothing skewed brighter, more modern, and more synthetic than that of the decades preceding it. If briefly, even New Yorkers swayed from their allegiance to standardized, monochrome black.
On the festival scene, apparel differed only slightly from that of the fitness realm. Picture the OG athleisure: bulky scrunchies paired with off-the-shoulder tees, leotards tucked into spandex shorts, and, of course, leg warmers. You know, for when your calves get cold.
For all the ways mainstream fashion of the 2010s bears resemblance to that of the '90s, the two aesthetics maintain their differences. Namely, the lack of a “hypebeast” category, pre-2000.
Musically, the '90s were dominated by the sort of bands whose singles are now largely performed by guys with guitars at Vermont sleepaway camps. From a sartorial standpoint, that’s to say quintessential, high-waisted “mom jeans,” high-top sneakers, plastic chokers, and, most notably, the bucket hat.
Ah, the early aughts — a time when the skinny-jean-clad members of pop punk bands ruled from the upper echelons of the music world, while their devoted followers strove to mimic their exaggerated side bangs and generic hoodies.
In reverence to these very artists, listeners on festival grounds were, for whatever reason, stoked about donning plastic neon shutter shades. Beyond the glasses, you’d likely have seen nondescript crop tops worn with equally nondescript maxi-skirts or cutoff high-waisted shorts, complemented by an ocean of identical checkered sneakers.
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What a time to be alive: the great 2010s. Excluding the failed Fest-Who-May-Not-Be-Named, festival culture is bigger than ever, with outdoor concert series popping up in smaller cities and mass metropolitan areas with wild frequency.
Festival fashion, as we know it at present, is something of a remarkable amalgam of all the decades that came before it. While it can often be difficult to draw the line between fashion and irony (think: scumbro), most ensembles pay some small homage to the '60s hippie aesthetic, the neon of the '80s, or the signature bucket hats of the '90s. Whether it’s in jest or in genuine admiration seems to matter little — these things dominate festival fashion either way.
At the next festival you hit before the year 2020 slides in, you’ll likely find an array of loud patterned matching sets; maximalist, Victorian-leaning puff-sleeve tops; and Nike’s latest AirMax sneakers. Plus, let us not forget the whole hypebae shtick, which calls for oversized, balloon-esque cargo pants in a nod to a certain animated, particularly agile ginger. Odds are, no one will be barefoot — though come 2020, it’s all a toss-up.
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