Festival fashion, with its riot of colour, sequins, flower crowns and anything-goes outfits, is back. After a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, Coachella, the California-based music festival that attracts 250,000 fans, made its return this weekend, bringing with it vibrant new trends and a cash boost for the fashion industry.
Coachella, the most fashionable event of the festival season, is known as much for its outfits as its performances. Trends for the rest of the year’s festival fashion are often dictated by the outfits worn by celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Katy Perry and Gigi Hadid. For streetwear brands and fast-fashion labels, Coachella is particularly important. The Boohoo-owned fast-fashion label, Pretty Little Thing, streetwear resale site StockX and US-based Gen Z retailer Revolve will sponsor areas at the festival, not just to advertise to attendees but also to those watching from home and on social media.
Ebony-Renee Baker, fashion editor of the Refinery29 website, describes it as “such a big commercial opportunity for brands and influencers – it’s just gotten so huge now and is observed all over the world”.
Revolve’s chief brand officer, Raissa Gerona, described Coachella to industry analysis website The Business of Fashion as “essential, it’s massive … it’s this kind of Super Bowl”.
Festivals have long had fashion influence, since Woodstock cemented hippy chic as an aesthetic in 1969. Over the years, images of ravers in fields and Kate Moss at Glastonbury have made tracksuits and Hunter wellies fashionable. Recently, festival trends have included crochet and cycling shorts – now stalwarts of summer style. There have also been controversial moments, as in 2017 when the trend for Native American-style headdresses led to claims of cultural appropriation.
Influencers stand to make significant sums, too. Maryam Ghafarinia, who has 186,000 followers on Instagram, described to the New York Post how she will capitalise on attending Coachella, charging brands upwards of $2,000 (£1,530) per post from the site.
Amy Luca, a senior vice-president at Media.Monks, a global marketing and advertising services company, said these sums are dwarfed by the fees commanded by household names: “When you’re talking about models and reality TV stars, that [payment] can be as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Baker said that festival season is often an opportunity for people to try out trends. “I’m predicting lots of 90s vintage-inspired looks, balletcore’s tulle skirts and leotards, cottagecore’s floral dresses, straw hats, lots of lace,” she said.
Fast-fashion brands know that festival season is a time when consumers spend – The Business of Fashion is reporting a boost of 173% for sales of festival fashion items across the sites Boohoo, H&M, Asos, and Nasty Gal, compared to 2019. This doesn’t lend itself to a sustainable take on fashion, although Baker says that festival-goers will be looking at sustainable options. “More people than ever are leaning into thrifting, shopping secondhand and vintage. Personally, I do love a fresh new outfit for festivals, but always look for secondhand options first.”
Philippa Grogan, a sustainable fashion and textiles consultant, describes festival fashion as “instant fun – [a bit like] the festive Christmas dress but in summer”. She says this makes her “question whether [the clothes] have been designed with longevity in mind… Then there’s the sort of aesthetic of the whole thing, lots of sequins and lurex, which are often largely derived from fossil fuel materials like oil and natural gas, because they’re basically plastic.”
Grogan suggests getting crafty is an option. “Cut sequins out from existing things that aren’t plastic,” she said, “[and then] embellish an old cardi or something.” If festival fashion is about impact, creativity like this goes a long way: “You’re always wearing something unique if you’re really pulling something together at home with existing materials.”