Festivals are the epitome of freedom; they represent escapism and allow you to shake off all responsibilities to become (however temporarily) whoever you want to be while immersed in a thick crowd of people all chanting the same lyrics. It is no wonder that they have become so ingrained in modern-day culture. One of the main outlets of expression at festivals is fashion, and both celebrities and ordinary folk alike spend days deliberating over the perfect outfits for a weekend in a muddy field. But have you ever wondered how the style of festival fashion evolved into what it is today? Let’s travel back in time to the most famous festivals of the 20th Century and see what’s truly at the heart of festival fashion.
On a small dairy farm in New York in August, 1969, there was a one-time event called Woodstock which has since become a defining moment in cultural history and the paragon of what a music festival should be. With all the political turmoil that America was experiencing at this time, it was no wonder that young people craved a revolution and freedom, and Woodstock provided the perfect opportunity for just that.
Archival photos of Woodstock showcase the various fashion statements that still frequent festivals nearly 60 years later. There was undoubtedly a hippie vibe to the fashion, with handmade clothing techniques being all the rage. Tie-dye and crocheting were immensely popular and have since become a staple of the 60s that many recreate at modern festivals like Coachella.
Clothing fusion was also common during the 60s; blending fashion together from across the globe to create wacky outfits that were a clear rebellion against the rules. West African dashikis were paired with Peruvian alpaca shawls, for example. Though this is not as popular at festivals now due to the issue of cultural appropriation, it still represents an element of diversity at festivals that does continue to this day.
But the real feature of the Swinging Sixties was denim. Whether it be frayed, painted, embroidered or patchworked, there was a denim bonanza at Woodstock. Coupled with the bright colours of tie-dye, this signified a new kind of psychedelic aesthetic that has become synonymous with both this festival and festivals in general.
As the world of music changed, however, so did the world of fashion. With the hippie culture slowly fading out, glam rockers like David Bowie entered the scene and inspired a new fashion revolution that celebrated androgyny and flamboyant clothing. At the same time, punk music emerged during the mid to late 70s and gave a voice to the disenfranchised youths of Britain that allowed them to rebel.
This era also saw many more festivals emerge, such as Glastonbury, though it was not nearly as popular as it is now. It only attracted between 1500 to 2000 people, compared to the 175,000 visitors it accumulated in 2019.
As opposed to the bohemian nature of tie-dye and crochet, the 1970s introduced leather jackets studded with metal spikes and laced with safety pins, and Doc Martens as the footwear of choice. These were both political statements as well as festival attire for the anti-establishment punks, and there are still many people who follow this fashion trend at festivals. The Reading and Leeds Festivals are pretty renowned for playing punk bands and being attended by people infatuated by punk fashion.
The 80s was the decade where festival fashion became weird and wonderful, and everyone was embraced with open arms no matter what they were wearing. It was also the decade where festivals became more tied to charity organisations such as WaterAid and Greenpeace. In fact, the biggest concert of the decade — Live Aid — was produced solely to raise money for the crisis in Ethiopia.
But what made the 80s the most different from the 60s and 70s was that there were no attached political messages to the fashion anymore. People dressed up for festivals for fun rather than anything else, and perhaps that’s why it is still such a popular style to date.
With Glastonbury growing in popularity during this decade and more punk / rock festivals emerging, there was a wide variety of fashion. Oversized, bright blazers, classic square Ray-Ban shades, leather bomber jackets, neon legwarmers and excessively layered jewellery were just some of the most common styles that could be found at 80s festivals.
Of course, there are still many elements of 80s fashion that are visible at festivals today. Dressing in neon, wearing legwarmers, backcombing hair and bright slogan tees (Choose Life and Frankie Says Relax are among the most common) are practically staples of modern festival attire.
During the 90s there was an ‘alternative rock’ explosion, breaking down genre boundaries that had previously limited musicians and feeding the kids of Woodstock-goers the new sound they had been craving. And of course, with a new wave of music comes a new wave of fashion.
Grunge and riot scenes were immensely popular, as was the angsty, laid-back attitudes of the younger generations, and this was reflected in the fashion at festivals. Long hair, oversized t-shirts, flannel shirts and army-grade boots were all the rage and were mainly inspired by popular grunge artists like Kurt Cobain.
The ‘Cool Britannia’ movement in England also contributed to this and heavily influenced fashion at festivals. Inspired by such artists as Oasis and Blur, bucket hats, Harrington jackets and football shirts became widely popular, as they promoted working class pride and championed British culture. As a result of this, the Union Jack was everywhere, including clothing (think that Geri Halliwell dress, for example).
Alongside this new grunge movement was the emergence of underground dance music. Raving became a part of daily life for many young people during the 90s, and as these sorts of festivals grew, so did the fashion. Space buns, baggy clothes and bright slogans accompanied the dance scene, and are still a common occurrence at 21st Century festivals such as Coachella.
So whether we realise it or not, festival fashion in the 20th Century has heavily influenced how we dress for festivals. Though festival fashion is constantly changing as new generations put their own spin on it, there will always still be a reference to that first big festival at a dairy farm in the summer of ‘69.