Woodstock sowed its roots in intentional festival fashion as a force of individuality against corporatism; but as music festivals have expanded into and engaged with the material cultures of both music and fashion on a more capitalist level, the three components of Woodstock’s fashion and the three festivals focused upon in this essay have lent themselves to motives of consumerism completely against the anarchist origins of festival fashion.
In the summer of 1969, Woodstock exploded onto the music scene, combining the music fanaticism of the counterculture with an anti-establishment identity, culminating in an aesthetic of “festival fashion” that promoted the rebellious lifestyle of young people in that era. While music festival fashion has become a consumer phenomenon, several subcultures of fashion and pertinent consumer tendencies have branched off from the original festival fashion of Woodstock 1969 and are associated with different music festivals across the United States, such as Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Austin City Limits.
When reflecting upon Woodstock fashion, there are three main components that lent themselves to the festival’s iconic look. Obviously, the aesthetic of these fashion choices was significant in the mainstream popularization of this style of dressing, as it “celebrated the handmade” and other materials like denim as “the hallmark of the revolution and the youth movement” (Friedman). In opposition to fashion consciousness, it’s crucial to consider these fashion choices as politically intentional at the time, since the counterculture attendees of Woodstock did not wear these clothes to impress, but rather make a protest statement on individuality and “symbolize an alternative to the corporate ooze” (Friedman) prominent in the fashion industry at this time. And lastly, the music, and particularly the music fanaticism, of the festival cannot be ignored for the role it played in creating an identity of the typical Woodstock fan, thus urging a consumer desire to portray this identity further and engage with this fashion sense. From these three characteristics stemmed three music festivals and their concurrent consumer fashion methods: Coachella taking the helm of the aesthetic ideals of festival fashion, Bonnaroo as an iconoclastic derivative of Woodstock’s social intent through clothing style, and Austin City Limits Festival’s showcased ‘uniform’ of dedicated music fandom, especially within older demographics.
When you think of music festival fashion in the popular culture of the 2010’s, the most notable representation is Coachella festival. In consideration of the original three components of Woodstock fashion, Coachella seems to portray the appeal to aesthetics most closely within the festival scene. Examining the festival through an economic lens, the demographics of Coachella add a deeper level of consumerism to the festival than other music festivals, and in particular contrast with the carefree and homemade Woodstock. In an interview with CNN, Walter Frye, the vice president of sponsorships and branded entertainment at American Express, details that “Coachella attracts an older, more affluent millennial than other festivals,” (Saad) translating to more potential customers and shoppers for all brands associated with Coachella. For example, Revolve, a Los Angeles-based clothing brand focused primarily on engagement through social media influencer marketing, found its profitable holy grail in Coachella by hosting a “mini-Coachella, complete with a ‘two-day FOMO inducing party’ and music lineup at an offsite location,” and thereby increasing their consumer base by 63.6% (Bobila).
This emphasis on consumerism, however, has caused a rapid need to redefine what is considered trendy in festival fashion annually and seasonally, with pacesetter Coachella at the forefront of this constant reinvention. Even the signature bohemian look of music festivals, once lauded by Coachella, has become dated and replaced by more eccentric and opulent fashion stylings. When setting Coachella and Woodstock side-by-side, Coachella’s fashion shines but its virtue pales in comparison to its mother festival, as “many have observed that [Coachella’s] sanitized version of bohemianism couldn’t be further removed from [Woodstock’s] original spirit” (Saad). From a comparative standpoint, the consumer growth of Coachella and its fashion seems to suggest a “romanticism about having a music festival” on the same level of renown as Woodstock, but lacking the other two essential components of protest and music fanaticism.
On the opposite end of the music festival spectrum, Bonnaroo has presented itself as the most clearly evocative of Woodstock in its practices, community, and fashion. On the musical front, Bonnaroo seems to be the revival of Woodstock’s culture in the landscape of modern day pop music, since “what started as a festival mainly comprised of jam bands…has morphed into one of the country’s largest — and most musically diverse — music fests” (Laurence). In an article on Al.com detailing Bonnaroo’s festival fashion evolution over the past decade, consistent elements include tie-dye, outlandish costumes, and colored hair. As Bonnaroo is a camping festival, just like Woodstock, comfort is the first priority for attendees, similar to the fashion of Woodstock 1969 where festival-goers were described as crafting their outfits from simple materials:
It championed the hippie trail: the fabrics that could be found while backpacking from Kathmandu to Pokhara, Rajasthan to Kerala, tapestries transformed into sarongs with a knot and a needs must; napkins tied into halter necks tops; colors and patterns that mapped out the search for enlightenment through cultures and communes and the back of one’s hand. (Friedman)
While the do-it-yourself fashion culture of 1969 has eased up, Bonnaroo seems to be the modern encapsulation of the social intentions of festival fashion initially promoted by Woodstock. To the unintentional style curators of Woodstock, “‘festival’ and ‘fashion’ were actually opposing concepts…[and] what you wore to the first was selected specifically as a protest against the second: chosen to make a statement of individuality and rebellion against the dictates not just of the establishment, but the designers who dressed them” (Friedman). Based around their theme to “radiate positivity,” Bonnaroo takes inspiration from the political motivation of Woodstock attendees on a smaller scale, celebrating all fashion styles, whether eccentric or casual, to enforce a strong, supportive, and nonjudgmental festival community. As a result, the consumer culture of Bonnaroo spills over into the camping portion of the festival, in that style is not as important to attendees as the four-day experience and elevating the memories that are made in the campgrounds.
Austin City Limits Festival finds itself at an overall crossroads when it comes to festival fashion, half of the attendees striving for Coachella-like marketability on social media, and the other half apathetic towards traditional festival fashion. One common ground I’ve become familiar with in the past four years I’ve attended ACL, however, is the shared focus on the musical acts of the festival. Since ACL Festival seems to pride itself on finding at least one classic and distinguished musical act each year — Paul McCartney, Guns N Roses, The Cure, etc. — the age gap between fans of different headliners has become more prevalent. Furthermore, while younger audiences at ACL may engage in the stereotypical festival wear inspired by Coachella-era consumer markets, the older demographic of music fans, mainly hailing from Texas and many times Austin itself, arrives at the festival clad in well-worn, vintage band t-shirts. Although this festival look isn’t the most glamourous, it definitely portrays the third and final component of Woodstock’s fashion standards: music fandom. Based on the concept of rock music’s material culture, wearing and cherishing these band shirts and various other merchandise provides those attired in it with a certain amount of social or cultural capital to utilize when appearing more knowledgeable or ‘hip’ about music.
These three festivals – Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Austin City Limits — have each taken control of a niche within the original intentions of ‘festival fashion’ from Woodstock 1969. This organization of consumer methods within clothing and music’s material culture portrays an even greater cultural phenomenon of the personalities that emerge from different music festivals or other public gatherings and events. Fashion is just one element that assembles groups of people to become a community and relate to each other on a deeper level; as we’ve discussed within this unit on consumerism, the desire to shop and acquire things is yet another method of creating communities, as all Americans are socialized in some form to desire obtaining consumer goods as a symbol of cultural capital and happiness.
There is one question that remains, however: what comes next in the world of music festival fashion? Dolls Kill, a Bay Area-based online retailer, could be a glimpse into the future of festival consumerism. The brand organizes its clothing into “Dolls” to appeal to various music festival communities:
Dolls Kill approaches festival fashion by curating collections around specific festivals, from Coachella to Electric Daisy Carnival. It also categorizes its offerings for different “Dolls” or aesthetics: Kandi is a club kid who practices PLUR in kawaii-style clothes; Coco is like a life-size Barbie-meets-femme bot hybrid; Mercy is all things witchy and goth; Willow is full-on hippie; and Darby is a punk-rock bad bitch through and through. Lynn has noticed this array of aesthetics also reflects how music festival lineups are starting to branch out with more varied performers and genres. (Bobila)
With an approach like this, Dolls Kill is cognizant of the current trend in festival fashion away from the flower crown culture of Coachella and other reaffirming festivals, and towards a more diverse consumer market in festival fashion, appealing to all music and style fans and therefore casting a wider and much more profitable net.
Dolls Kill and other clothing brands following their lead have uncovered the secret to success within the festival market: close attention to evolution. Obviously, the days of Woodstock and its homemade stylings are long past, and the intentions of festival-wear are more commonly tied into individuality as self-marketing on social media rather than as a political statement; therefore, appeals to these fashion consumers must diversify their approaches to engage with all three original elements enforced by Woodstock fashion — aesthetics, social intention, and music fandom. In a Fashionista interview, WGSN Retail Editor Sidney Morgan-Petro suggested to the festival fashion market, “You have to look at the evolution of the festivals themselves to see what’s going to happen with the consumer” (Bobila). The rhetoric of clothing styles lends itself to a “more visible society” as fashion historian and Leeds College of Arts lecturer Emmanuelle Dirix indicates (Saad) in regards to an American society driven by social media and constant connectivity and awareness. Therefore, the only way festival fashion has come this far in regards to consumer marketability is based upon the attentiveness of corporations towards the growing visibility of trending styling choices at various festivals.
This evolution of fashion at music festivals and the consumer tactics that accompany these trends will continue on indefinitely, as styles and values branch off even more to form new communities and trends within the spheres of festivals nationwide and worldwide. Woodstock sowed its roots in intentional festival fashion as a force of individuality against corporatism; but as music festivals have expanded into and engaged with the material cultures of both music and fashion on a more capitalist level, the three components of Woodstock’s fashion and the three festivals focused upon in this essay have lent themselves to motives of consumerism completely against the anarchist origins of festival fashion. Nevertheless, these components of festival fashion all the while lend themselves to the self-empowerment of the consumer as they fulfill their desires and actively participate in the function of music festivals that is most important to them through their personal styling.
Bobila, Maria. “What’s the New ‘Festival Fashion’ Aesthetic?” Fashionista, Breaking Media, Inc., 10 Apr. 2018, https://fashionista.com/2018/04/music-festival-fashion-clothing-aesthetic-2018.
Friedman, Vanessa. “Woodstock Was the Birthplace of Festival Fashion.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 7 Aug. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/07/arts/music/festival-fashion-woodstock.html.
Laurence, Haley. “How Bonnaroo Fashion Has Changed over the Years.” Al, AL.com, 7 June 2017, https://www.al.com/entertainment/2017/06/how_bonnaroo_fashion_has_chang.html.
Saad, Shirine. “Why All Music Festival-Goers Look the Same.” CNN, Cable News Network, 19 Apr. 2018, https://www.cnn.com/style/article/festival-fashion-trends-style/index.html.