The significance of festival culture + the environmental impact
If there’s one thing us Brits love, it’s a good festival. A chance to hear our favourite bands play live, an excuse to stay up all night with friends, and the perfect opportunity to finally let our hair down.
The festival culture that we love has existed for decades, and it’s easy to see why. Festivals bring us together. They create a strong sense of community and belonging, leaving fans with memories to cherish for a lifetime. In fact, people have been enjoying festivals for thousands of years! History Extra notes: “The first known music festival was the Pythian Games, a precursor of the Olympics, which was held from the late sixth century BC at the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi”, and since then, they’ve been a significant pastime throughout human history.
The first real mark of festival culture as we know it, however, didn’t start until the late 1950’s. The first known popular music festival was the National Jazz and Blues Festival of 1961, (now known as Reading) which was a pinnacle moment for the music fandom culture. Other famous events include The Isle of Wight Fest of 1968, which played to 10,000 fans, multiplying to 600,000 just two years later, and of course, the legendary, Woodstock, which began in 1969, and was affectionately dubbed the “three days of love and peace”.
Over the decades, we’ve seen an exponential growth in the types of festivals out there. Whether you’re a heavy metal fan, an R&B lover, or a jazz enthusiast, there is a festival out there for you. There are even festivals dedicated to specific hobbies and interests – from vegan food to motorcycles!
It seems as though we love nothing more than getting together as a community and sharing our mutual passions. Even the less glamourous parts of festivals, sleeping in a humid tent and queuing up at 4am for the portaloo, have become an honorary part of the experience.
The fashion ritual
As festival culture has evolved over the decades, so too has the fashion. For many of us festivals are the highlight of our year, a weekend that we prepare in meticulous detail, months in advance, as we eagerly await that thrilling experience once again. For many festival fans, this process also includes planning each and every outfit to the final detail too. After all, festivals are one of the few places where we can wear whatever we like. There’s no rigid dress code and there’s certainly no judgement either. They’re the perfect opportunity to get creative and have fun with your look.
In recent years, fashion has made its way to the forefront of modern festival culture, and depending on the festival itself, there is typically an unofficial but signature style. Take Glastonbury for instance, the signature style fashion has always been casual bohemian, with practical wellies to trudge through the fields.
Perhaps the most fashion-conscious festivals, however, are the newer, more modern events, popular with social media influencers and younger people alike; Coachella (USA), Reading, Boomtown, and Lovebox to name a few. These festivals have pioneered a whole new culture of festival fashion. It’s no longer just about dressing practical; it’s about dressing for the party. These modern fans are cultivating a new era of festival culture, and the latest trend seems to be illuminating one’s face, hair, and body with glitter, whilst dressing in the most vibrant attire as possible.
You may be wondering when exactly, this shift happened. Fashion certainly wasn’t at the forefront when music festivals became popular in the late 1950’s, when fans would turn up wearing whatever they had lying around in their wardrobes. It wasn’t even that uncommon during the late 60’s and 70’s that music fans would wear nothing at all!
So, when did fashion dominate festival culture, and what caused this shift?
The fast fashion boom
The shift in festival culture reflects the wider shift to a more technological society. Technological advances have meant that we can access as much mass-produced, low-cost clothing as we like, and with the explosion of online shopping in the last decade, buying has never been easier. These advances has drastically shaped consumer trends. Elizabeth Cline, author of ‘Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion’, found that an average American woman adds 64 new pieces of clothing to her wardrobe every year. A stark contrast to the average 1930’s woman, who only had 9 outfits altogether.
So how does this affect festival culture? Well, one of the largest contributing factors to this, is that we are simply producing and consuming more clothes than ever before. We can afford to buy as many on-trend clothes as we like, regardless of how often we will wear them; even if it’s just for one weekend.
So, how did festival fashion become a distinct style? The answer to this, is social media. Over the years, social media has become the main way in which we connect with the outer world, keep up with the latest trends, and share our lives with others, and with over 500 million daily users on Instagram alone, it’s clear that we have shifted to a technology-dominant society.
Instead of waiting for the latest runway looks to hit the magazines, we are now far more interested by social media influencers. With one click, we can see what they’re wearing, what the new rage is, and in turn, what clothes we should be buying to stay on trend. Popular fast fashion brands have capitalised off this new culture, collaborating with these influencers to dictate new trends and market their products to a large, impressionable audience. Additionally, most fast fashion companies now have a dedicated ‘festival’ fashion section which demonstrates the surfacing of a new distinct style, and growth in consumer demand.
The most influential practice of social media on festivals, however, has been the birth of the ‘selfie’. Festivals have become the perfect opportunity to post photos of our brand-new, unique outfits at the most popular events of the year. Festival selfies have become a ritual of their own. In fact, new research found that almost half (46%) of festival goers were influenced to attend the event from social media posts. It comes as no surprise then, that social media influencers set the latest festival fashion trends too; often with outrageously daring styles, using these popular festivals as a marketing tool for their own following.
In conclusion, the fast-paced nature of social media trends have influenced our personal style, purchases, and even the events that we attend, as we seek to emulate public figures. This has impacted festival culture too, as many festivals are now dominated by fashion-eager fans, looking for a party and a photo opportunity.
So, is festival fashion wasteful?
In short, yes. With the growing awareness over the destruction to our planet, it seems irresponsible that we continue to indulge in throw-away fashion practices. Landfills are overflown, precious resources are dwindling, and the environment is suffering under our mass-consumerist society. In festival fashion, fast fashion brands have created yet another disposable trend that capitalises on the rapid turnover of new ‘must-have’ styles, marketed on social media large, impressionable audience.
What exactly makes it disposable? You may ask. Well, irrespective of the often low quality and short-lived life span of fast fashion garments, these festival pieces are exactly what they say they are: intended to be worn at a festival. Due to the often outlandish style of these garments, they are unlikely to be worn in other contexts, and as rapid trends and mass-consumerism dictate, they’re just as unlikely to see another festival season too.
Festivals are certainly not inherently bad, and neither is festival fashion. Can we still enjoy dressing-up whilst being sustainable? Of course, we can! There are so many wonderful options out there where we can find unique pieces. Charity shops and second-hand stores such as eBay and Depop are a great place to find almost any style of clothing, without contributing to fashion waste. If you’re looking for something one-of-a-kind, you could even shop from small businesses on sites like Esty – which by the way, even has its own festival category!
So, when you’re planning your next exciting festival adventure, consider some of these more ethical and eco-friendly fashion options.
Written by Isabella Noulton
Want to learn more about how to create a more sustainable wardrobe? Click here to read my article on Fashion + The Circular Economy