Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images
In this The Cut x Switched on Pop collab, co-host Jazmín Aguilera is reminded of the daunting task of picking out an outfit for a music festival, leading her and B.A. Parker to ask, Why is festival fashion so important to us anyway? The two discuss the history of music-festival style with an associate professor of apparel merchandising at Baylor University, Lorynn Divita, and sit down with co-hosts of Vulture’s podcast Switched on Pop, Charlie Harding and Nate Sloan, to talk about the intersection of culture, music, and fashion at today’s biggest music festival, Coachella.
To hear more about why we take festival looks so seriously, and how Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella performance is perhaps the only exception to the way consumerism has taken ahold of the industry, listen below, and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. You can also read the full transcript below.
JAZMÍN: Hey Parker!
PARKER: Hey Jazzy! How are you?
JAZMÍN: I’m good and ready and excited. I’m wearing my space buns. I’m ready to try stuff on. Next month I’m going to a music festival in Chicago and honestly the pressure is on to find the perfect festival look because it’s been forever since I’ve been to a festival and God only knows if this is my only chance this year to go anywhere before everything gets shut down again. So….
JAZMÍN: Gotta make it work.
PARKER: I’m very excited.
JAZMÍN: Here’s number one. I’m gonna call this “Space Barbie.”
PARKER: I love it already.
JAZMÍN: Even as I put this on, I can tell this is unrealistic.
JAZMÍN: I’m wearing this pleather vinyl shiny metallic pink low cut dress.
PARKER: It’s apparently very cold in Jazmín’s apartment.
JAZMÍN: This is very turn of the millennium.
JAZMÍN: “Zenon, slut princess!”
PARKER: It’s all a vibe. It’s all a vibe!
JAZMÍN: This week Parker and I are on the podcast Switched on Pop, talking festival fashion, and the way style and music mash together in these weird petri dishes of culture. We’re playing you a version of that episode today.
NATE SLOAN: Well, one time I was walking down the street and I heard overheard this woman talking to her friend as I walked by. She said, “That guy dresses exactly like my grandfather.”
JAZMÍN: Okay, well, depending on who your grandfather was, that could actually be really cool.
NATE: They didn’t mean it as a compliment, but I appreciate that, Jazmín.
JAZMÍN: Parker, I feel like you would have really great festival fashion. You have a lot of band t-shirts.
PARKER: So, I went a couple of years ago to Afropunk and I was really excited because, you know, Black punk kids, that’s my jam. That’s my heart. So I was seeing all these amazing outfits lots of fish, net, lots of Doc Martens, lots of septum piercings, beauty in excess, but it was like this kind of homogenized view of uniqueness that kind of took me out of it.
And like I thought I looked good, but I’m not trying to perform fashion in this way. And so that made me uncomfortable. It made me feel as if I wasn’t really supposed to be there. There was this performative nature to it that took away from the actual performances on the stage.
JAZMÍN: Yeah, it feels like concerts have become like church in the sense that you go there partly to be seen and to dress up as part of the thing. And everybody looks amazing.
PARKER: But also to worship!
JAZMÍN: But that’s also. It’s an also. That’s the point though. That’s a whole part of it now and it looks awesome, but they created that category of fashion and now it’s become really commercialized. It’s really taken away from this communal experience where we’re all coming together to listen to artists that we all love and [have] a beautiful moment. It alienates people from that experience because now it’s about who can be the coolest looking person there, or, you know, it taints it in a way. That’s what happened to Parker–she’s going to Afropunk to have this vibe, this experience, and then sort of feeling like an outsider because she doesn’t have a septum piercing. You know what I mean? How did we get there?
PARKER: I just want to get drunk and listen to Gary Clark Jr. Is that so wrong?
JAZMÍN: I don’t think that’s wrong in any context.
PARKER: At music festivals fashion has become just as important today as the music is and you see that most clearly at the festival of all festivals… Coachella.
JAZMÍN: Coachella fashion is like what? Flower crowns? Crochet tops?
PARKER: Flowers on your titties kinda vibe that you can broadly categorize as hippie.
JAZMÍN: Which obviously comes from Woodstock.
PARKER: But where did Woodstock get it?
JAZMÍN: How did fashion, and this fashion in particular come to be associated with thousands of people getting sweaty listening to music?
PARKER: To figure it out we talked to a professor of Apparel Merchandising at Baylor University.
LORYNN DIVITA: My name is Lorynn Divita. I am an associate professor of Apparel Merchandising at Baylor University.
JAZMÍN: She wrote an article called “3 Days of Peace & Music & Fashion, a History of Festival Dress” starting in the Woodstock era. At that time, young people were leaning hard into anti-consumerism ideas
LORYNN: People were forming communes across, America and Earth Day was first celebrated right around that time. But in order to show anti-consumer ethos, you did things like either buying their clothes at places like Army Navy surplus stores, hence the popularity of the bell-bottom, or from thrift stores. Back then clothing was made to last a lot longer than it does today, so it was very easy to get clothing from decades before that was in usable shape or from import stores because they really liked the colorful aspect of it, as well as that association of being close to nature, like so many non Western cultures have. Native American influences, Indian influences, and also the kaftan was huge.
JAZMÍN: So the hippies look like something, right? There’s a hippie vibe that reflected their philosophy. Let’s take a look at that. Nate and Charlie, we sent you this article from Vogue Paris with a bunch of photos of what people were wearing at Woodstock, let’s all just pull that up together.
CHARLIE HARDING: One of the things that occurs to me looking at these images is that even the original festival, there were dominant trends like fringe tie dye, old jeans. Then there’s a couple of squares that showed up to the festival, this would have been me, [who are] still wearing their heritage brand, coming from their city job and, are unbuttoning their shirt to look like they can try to fit in and it’s kind of working, but they definitely aren’t following the trend. They don’t have the cool shirt. Nobody’s giving them the high five.
CHARLIE: Even the corduroy guy looks like he’s having fun at the playground with all the people who are up to no good and in a big pile of people having a good time.
JAZMÍN: The thing about this is there is a vibe. There’s definitely fashion choices, but it doesn’t seem like people have made fashion their priority in this festival.
PARKER: It seems like more happenstance than intention for me.
CHARLIE: I think it’s worth pausing here for a second and thinking about some of the ways that the themes and fashion that you’re talking about are also occurring musically at Woodstock. Some of the themes that the main performers are dealing with are issues of any war in the Vietnam conflict and the Civil Rights movement, anti-capitalism and the rejection of the American Dream. You can look at artists like Joan Baez, who starts the story talking about her husband, David Harris; he gets arrested as an anti-war activist [and is] imprisoned in July of ‘69 for refusing to report for duty and she tells a whole story about it.
The last time I saw David he was in the backseat of the car and they handcuffed him and they were so anxious to drive out there in a hurry, I think they thought we were all gonna lie down in front of the car or something.
–Clip from Joan Baez’s Woodstock speech.
CHARLIE: But also sings folk songs like “Joe Hill,” about this labor activist, Joe Hill.
“The copper bosses killed you, Joe”
“They shot you Joe” says I
“Takes more than guns to kill a man”
– Clip from Joan Baez’s “Joe Hill”
CHARLIE: It makes me think of lots of other songs as well, like Country Joe McDonald, I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag is this commentary on the Vietnam War.
And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for
Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Viet Nam
– Clip from Country Joe McDonald’s “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag”
CHARLIE: In the same way that people are showing up unexpectedly and maybe not wearing quite the right thing, you had musical moments that reflected that same kind of improvisational nature. It makes me think of Richie Havens’ song “Freedom” based off of the spiritual motherless child, which was frequently sung during the Civil Rights movement.
Freedom, Freedom ”
– Clip from Richie Havens’ “Freedom (Motherless Child)”
NATE: Yeah, then I think where this all comes together, politics, music, fashion is Jimi Hendrix’s performance of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Earlier we were talking about some of these attendees wearing military surplus, re-purposing these clothes like Jimi Hendrix is repurposing the National Anthem, which itself is very associated with militaristic displays of nationalism, but he turns it into something completely different. Something in the spirit of the ‘60s, performed on electric guitar with whammy bar slides. Distortion. I think it’s as powerful to listen to now, as it must’ve been then.
JAZMÍN: In this Vogue article, we can see Jimi Hendrix looking like the rock god that he is with an amazing light blue suede jacket with fringe on the sleeves, and these light wash blue bell-bottoms.
PARKER: A man who could get it.
JAZMÍN: A man who definitely could.
PARKER: I’m super jealous of this fringe jacket and I want it in my life. It’s powerful.
NATE: It gives me the sense at once of someone really laid back and perhaps counter-cultural, but also someone who takes what they’re doing seriously. Like, this is a well put together ensemble.
CHARLIE: It seems to be as like loose and frayed and moving in the wind as the feedback and his electric guitar, it feels very fitting for the music he’s playing.
NATE: Yes. It’s almost a sartorial analogy to that spontaneous semi-improvised Richie Havens set we were talking about. There’s a sense of spontaneity and letting things happen and seeing what that pervades, both the music and the fashion here.
JAZMÍN: The thing about this picture, it doesn’t look like he bought this jacket for Woodstock.
PARKER: Again, happenstance over intention. You just show up like, I’m going to throw this on, which is like the total opposite of large music festivals today.
CHARLIE: Okay, but real talk, living in southern California weeks or months before Coachella happens, I get targeted Instagram ads of festival retailers who are recreating that sort of Woodstock vibe in a contemporary way. They’re very much trying to make sure that I am buying this stuff and ready to go to the festival ahead of time.
PARKER: Coachella wasn’t always like this! The organization that puts on Coachella is called Goldenvoice. When they set out to do the first Coachella in 1999, they then ended up being compared to Woodstock 99, this festival where things went horribly wrong.
NEWS ANCHOR: The fires and the chaos brought hundreds of state police to the scene.
MAN: Get down! The riot police are coming!
– News clip from Woodstock 99.
PARKER: People got hurt, people died, and this was this looming large in the background.
JAZMÍN: But Goldenvoice wanted Coachella to be different, and since it was the first Coachella, there was no template for what to wear.
LORYNN: You might say, “Well, why Woodstock?” Well, we were looking for guides, right? So what do we do? We go to the origin. Consider the source. That’s why in those really early photos, you’ve got all these backseat dresses, beads, and floppy hats.
JAZMÍN: So I opened up this other page that had the evolution of looks from 2001 to now. If you look at some of the pictures, you go from somebody wearing a pretty detailed pattern, but still a nice outfit that you could wear anywhere–maybe a tank top and some printed pants and then as the years go on, it gets a little bit more specific. There are band t-shirts ripped up, like a rocker look. Then there’s a big pink hat.
PARKER: Oh I forgot about the Donna’s.
JAZMÍN: Very quickly, that style spiraled out of control.
LORYNN: People realized that cool people go to this event. So people started going there looking to take photos of cool people. Then, people started realizing if I go to this event and I stand out, I can get my photo taken. The ultimate validation, right? So it’s become a lot more performative because you’re going to dress in outlandish clothes in the hopes of getting noticed, and in the hopes of being seen, and in the hopes of being photographed.
JAZMÍN: Over time, that increasingly became the point of Coachella– less about the music and more about the fashion. I do have another listicle for you. This is just the collection of Coachella outfits throughout the years. Oh my God. Okay. So the first image we see is for the 2011 Coachella and it was a woman wearing, yellow carnations? Yellow daisies? I don’t know what kind of flowers those are.
PARKER: Yellow daisies on her breasts.
PARKER: If I could, I would.
PARKER: I’ve never been this free. But it’s also like, is she ever going to wear this again? Like this feather glued, Victoria Secret bra, is this lady ever going to wear this again?
JAZMÍN: I mean, I would actually wear some of these outfits to be honest with you. I would.
PARKER: That I could tell.
JAZMÍN: But I’m also an extra person. I would go to Coachella to be seen. That would be it, but I would feel obligated to go and listen to the show and not be seen and it would tear me apart.
CHARLIE: One of the things that occurs to me, looking at these images from Coachella, is that it’s a lot more about bodies and the presentation of our bodies and the things that slightly adored it. Whereas the images from Woodstock, almost seem like candid actuality shots–they weren’t from professional fashion photographers. Given that pretty much every image that I’m looking at [from Coachella] has every person [showing] just all skin. There’s definitely a part of me that would be like, Um, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable going there and wearing the things that I have to not wear in order to be seen.
JAZMÍN: Oh, I would love to be naked.
PARKER: I know you do honey, but these are impractical naked people like this lady is in a bikini and like a Davy Crockett hat. There’s a disconnect. Those are two different seasons.
CHARLIE: There’s a strong sense of particularly being seen and loudness.
CHARLIE: You know? Our whole visual culture has become about loudness and attention grabbing. I say this as someone who wears mostly grays and tans.
JAZMÍN: I mean, I get it. I say it as a person who wears every single color on the rainbow. That’s why I mentioned the festivals. What is the point of music festivals these days? Cause it isn’t what it was when it was Woodstock. These days, it definitely feels like you go there to be seen. That’s what makes this fashion, that’s why this girl right here in 2015 is wearing a bright red fur vest in what looks like a summertime meadow. You make it so that people want to stop and take a picture of you and you make it so that you can take pictures of yourself, and you can remember yourself. I don’t want to come out of this being judgy on the fact that people want to wear whatever, like they want to dress up. I want to encourage more fashion in the music industry, in fact. If we could go back to glam rock where you could see every outline of a man’s body. I would enjoy that. I would like to see more Lycra. More spandex.
PARKER: More boys in crop tops.
JAZMÍN: Mhm. So it’s not, it’s not that when you combine these two forces and pervert it with consumerism, when it’s no longer about the art and the aesthetic, it’s about the clout that you can get from the art and the aesthetic–that’s when it turns into something else. Where Parker feels uncomfortable. Where the music seems like it takes a backseat to fashion.
CHARLIE: Does it seem like, I mean, if we’re talking about festivals, being a representation of their cultures in their fashion and in their music, it seems that both of these festivals are exactly of their time. To your point, I have no beef with people looking exactly as they want to, showing off, looking great, knowing that their image is going to be seen around the world, because the entire thing is live streamed around the world. It makes sense. Yeah, it’s worth getting dressed up. Like, I wouldn’t go to the Met Gala and wear my khaki shorts. That would be a bad choice.
PARKER: Unless you wanna make a true statement.
CHARLIE: Thanks, Parker.
NATE: I feel like this is the key context for this shift that we’re seeing in fashion, and probably that we’ll be hearing in music is that corporatization. AEG, a huge multi-national entertainment company, bought a major stake in Coachella in 2004. That is not just an independent music festival. This is part of a consolidated corporation. This is big business. This is not a bunch of hippies gathering at Yasgur’s Farm. It probably changes the festival experience and it changes the kind of meaning of the music. Is there space for that kind of political message for that kind of community building for that era defining moment? Probably not.
PARKER: Yeah. This exactly what we’re talking about. It also changes the meaning of the fashion. This communal space has now become something fractured, so if you don’t want to play the game, that’s when you start to feel like it’s not a place for you. Like it’s not good for the music. It’s not good for the fashion. No one wins.
NATE: I do think there’s an important exception here. I can imagine we’re all thinking about it. It’s BeyChella.
PARKER: Yes. Okay, some people are calling it Bay Chella, which is fine. They’re entitled to their wrong pronunciation. It is Bee-Chella, because her name is Beyoncé. Bay-Chella is not a thing. She’s the Queen Bee, not Queen Bay, and B-E-Y, though it looks like Bay, is Bee, but you know, live your life.
JAZMÍN: Preach it Parker! Take us back to that wonderful moment in 2018, when Beyoncé headlined the festival.
PARKER: The beauty and the wonder of BeyChella cannot be overstated. It is incredible, not just from a purely entertainment standpoint, but she actually did something truly powerful on the stage. She’s putting on this show that draws so much from Black culture and you can see this in the Homecoming documentary.
Coachella ya ready? Let’s go get ‘em.
–Clip from BeyChella
PARKER: She used like the iconography of an historically Black college, and like a homecoming, which is a big deal within historically Black communities and within historically Black spaces. It’s like a big deal on college campuses. So, to see that for the first time was pretty mind blowing because it was sharing something that is very personal and very beautiful within Black spaces in this huge moment.
When we first see Beyoncé walking out on stage in this epic outfit, that looks like it’s inspired by Nefertiti, an ancient Egyptian queen. Of course get the incredible performance with the HBCU inspired marching band. Which I bought a t-shirt from the Beyoncé website, like a gold shirt with the fake Beyoncé Greek letters on the front.
CHARLIE: This is great. This is exactly what Beyoncé is so good at doing, realizing the power of a big stage. It might seem like Coachella is sold out and overly commercial, but she knows that there are so many eyes on her and she can use that opportunity of attention to make a powerful, profound statement about identity and race and not just to the concert goers, but to the millions of people who are going to see it later on a Netflix documentary or who are even streaming in live at that very moment, or the people who are going to buy the sweatshirt and carry on that moment then and forever after.
NATE: This conversation just brings home how inextricably linked music and fashion are. When you listen to this performance, you can’t separate it from the visuals but want to make both of them part of your world. You want to have the music and the fashion. That memory is so synched together. There they are pretty much inseparable.
JAZMÍN: How do you top Beyoncé? How do you top BeyChella?
NATE: It’s not gonna happen.
JAZMÍN: You can’t!
PARKER: You shouldn’t! No more! Shut it down!
JAZMÍN: I don’t think there’s anybody else who could really pull it off in the same way and anybody who even tries…
PARKER: Gets their feelings hurt!
JAZMÍN: Yeah, it’s just disrespectful.
PARKER: But if we are going to steal a look from Beyoncé for Coachella. There is a picture of her at some Coachella in booty shorts and a Sex Pistols t-shirt and by all means, take that like wear that left and right.