Denim cut-offs, floral garlands, fashion wellies - you know the drill
April 26, 2015 10:16 AM   Subscribe

As a music fan, what I find even more worrying is that these “festival fashion” features only perpetuate the myth that women are incapable of enjoying music for music’s sake. More than that: these features are flat-out telling us we’re not allowed to. The subtext appears to be, “Girls: the boys have generously granted you access to their sphere; the least you can do is look pretty.
posted by acb (41 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Nobody looks pretty after 2 days at a music festival. NOBODY.
posted by TheCoug at 10:20 AM on April 26, 2015 [16 favorites]


Didn't the writer get the memo? No one can tell a woman anything! But really, it is great to feel pretty, anyone who wants to can. Just like anyone who wants to feel relevant can, also. I mean, aren't people in charge of their feelings?

Humans love sharing each other's company, often in large groups, no matter who they are, people get together some sort of visual gig, self expression it is called. I don't think people need to be exhorted to look like this or not look like this, or listen to, or not listen to. Chauvanism walks both sides of the street.
posted by Oyéah at 10:32 AM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


The irony of paying $300-$400 for an outfit that apes a look from 45 years ago that moreover was built on the concept of wearing things that were natural and inexpensive or free -- is painful.
posted by jfwlucy at 10:34 AM on April 26, 2015 [25 favorites]


But, but HuffPo is telling me that two teens achieved Instagram Superstardom at Coachella! SUPERSTARDOM!!
posted by Navelgazer at 10:35 AM on April 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


I live near the place that Lollapalooza is held every year, so I see the hordes coming and going. Fashion is one thing but I'm always surprised at stuff people wear. It's going to be crowded, probably very hot and likely to rain hard on at least 1 out of 3 days. Don't people want to be comfortable?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:40 AM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


The irony-opposite of wrinkly.
posted by Oyéah at 10:40 AM on April 26, 2015


Eh, yeeeeeeah, but some people enjoy that. Finding the perfect outfit for the thing for themselves, looking at other people, etc. It's part of the fun for them. Then, marketers gonna market.

I don't think it's a terrible thing to remind people not to believe the marketing copy; to do what you want and not what you're being told is mandatory. At the same time, I don't think these articles do much besides shame the people who do enjoy such things for being dupes of Big Fashion.
posted by ctmf at 10:47 AM on April 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Rolling Stone gallery mentioned in the article was a pain to look at on my phone but from what I could see, she really mischaracterized it. I saw at least as many men as women and I saw a couple of tops that might be called "bikini tops" but that's not what the writer saw, or said she saw. Makes me think this whole article is at best an illustration of confirmation bias.
posted by janey47 at 10:58 AM on April 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I think the writer dumped "deep cleavage" and "crop tops" in the bikini category.
posted by pxe2000 at 11:25 AM on April 26, 2015


I go to ACL every year and stuff like this article is discussing makes me a little more anxious than usual about being judged on clothes (which is fortunately not much). I want to look nice enough, but Zilker is going to be a dust pit or muddy and it's likely to be 80F out, or more. Fortunately ACL is falling out of fashion and into mainstream so there's less "look this celebrity showed up" with "cute street fashion" and more "you middle aged people enjoy your bad taste music".

The sturdy footwear is a must, though: I sprained my ankle last year when I stepped in a divot on the lawn (and I wasn't even looking at my phone). It was bad enough as it was; I can't imagine how that would have gone if I'd been wearing heels or fashionable shoes.
posted by immlass at 11:39 AM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always thought being at a festival meant being part of the show. Your job as an attendee, if you choose to accept it, is to provide your fellow attendees with something interesting or colorful to look at. And if you happen to be beautiful, there's no need to hide that.
posted by BentFranklin at 11:40 AM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


I always thought festival wear was the stuff you wish you could wear every day but alas the boss would not approve of corset back tank tops and flowy harem pants so FUCK IT I'm going to wear it to the folk fest.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:46 AM on April 26, 2015 [9 favorites]


I am of two minds on this general topic, although I'll agree that her examples aren't all that compelling on their own.

1. Fashion IS important, especially for young people. Presentation is one of the first ways that budding adults get to publicly express and explore their adult personas. And anyone who says that they don't care about fashion is likely just experiencing a kind of privilege blindness because their personal style aligns closely enough with the mainstream that they don't notice it. People value their identity kits far more than most of them realize. Conservative, middle class white guys are nearly all in hardcore denial of this, but their facades are probably the easiest to crack. Fashion isn't stupid, silly, or purely superficial.

2. On the other hand, hoo boy, the gendered double standards! I wore my interests on my sleeve quite obviously as a young person, and it was always strange to me how casually people assumed that my choices were strictly for appearance. I was probably wearing that band t-shirt not because I liked the band myself, but because I liked a boy or boys who did. If I was presenting myself in a way that was 'unflattering,' people would helpfully try to give me advice, as though I must be completely unaware that men MY DAD'S AGE get more boners from long hair than they do from buzzcuts, or that they want to be able to make out the general outline of my ass. Now that I'm an old lady, I like to imagine the reception if I talked to teenaged boys the way old men talked to me, and I always end up shuddering in horror. But the common theme was that whatever it was I was attempting to convey was necessarily filtered through the male gaze.

I dunno. Maybe those aren't two minds after all. Maybe it's just a regular double standard, where female coded interests such as fashion are always considered more insignificant and superficial than male coded interests are, so we've created a weird kind of disassociation between "fashion" and the interests and predilictions that they're tied to.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:48 AM on April 26, 2015 [33 favorites]


if I talked to teenaged boys the way old men talked to me

That's a brilliant idea.
posted by ctmf at 11:56 AM on April 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


The weird thing is that I was a teenager who really defined herself by her style, but outdoor shows were kind of an exception, because the weather was such an issue. They were always in the middle of July or August, and it was blazing hot, and the goal was to balance not overheating with not getting a sunburn. I sort of assumed I was going to look like a bit of a dork, because the idea was to be able to stay as long as possible without dying. Also, makeup was kind of a non-starter, because all of my eyeliner was just going to slide right off once I started sweating.

This is probably a bigger issue in the US than in the UK, though.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:01 PM on April 26, 2015


I always thought being at a festival meant being part of the show. Your job as an attendee, if you choose to accept it, is to provide your fellow attendees with something interesting or colorful to look at.

You must go to a different type of festival than I do. IMHO, being at a festival means seeing bands and hanging out with other people with broadly similar interests in music. Which means that, while wearing T-shirts/badges reflecting your taste in music and/or other interests is advisable, anything much more elaborate looks like trying a bit too hard.
posted by acb at 12:10 PM on April 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Nobody looks pretty after 2 days at a music festival. NOBODY.

Plus two days with no shower, a portaloo and some wet wipes and you can wear all the flower garlands you want but you ain't smelling of roses.
posted by billiebee at 12:38 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can't count the number of times that I've gone to a show or a fest having convinced myself that I should wear something impractical. I'd go wearing something I wouldn't normally wear, and then spend the entire time adjusting that clothing, sucking in my gut or standing awkwardly on shredded feet. One would think I would have learned my lesson after the first few times this happened, but evidently some things heal slower than blistered ankles. Or alternately I'd wear the same casual clothing I wear outside of work and be preoccupied with discomfort that I didn't fit an internal list of vague feminine visual requirements for attendance. Am I thin, sexy and girly enough? Will I give the impression that I've tried too hard? Do I look like I've spent enough money to be here?

These experiences have me convinced that a humming, low-level anxiety about how one looks in the present moment is just the nature of young adulthood, but also that the Carefree Festival Princess is a ridiculous class-aspirational myth created by fashion as an entire industry, revived specifically by fast fashion, and reinforced by brands like Free People. Perhaps If I'd just had that annoying chauvinist voice in my ear of a woman my age assuring me that a crew neck t-shirt I already own and practical boots I've worn a hundred times are totally acceptable festival wear, then maybe I would have fonder memories of going to festivals. But that doesn't make people money.
posted by theraflu at 12:50 PM on April 26, 2015 [18 favorites]


Yeah, growing up I remember the Kerrang! festival guides that definitely pushed a uniform for the oiks, but the focus was certainly on comfort more than expressing your vague sense of viking/berserker stylings.

I appreciate people that continue to fight against the tide to look good at festivals, I really do. I remember going to one of the big New Year's raves years ago and it rained, constantly. Tents were floating away, people were getting evacced with hypothermia, a real shit show. I stumbled into the main hardcore tent around day three and there's a couple done up all in white dancing away on their own piece of board. No mud, fresh as hell, to this day I'm impressed.
posted by fido~depravo at 1:15 PM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


This article ignores the most important issue: when is it appropriate to wear the band's t-shirt to the band's show?
posted by betweenthebars at 2:19 PM on April 26, 2015


when is it appropriate to wear the band's t-shirt to the band's show?

It's a somewhat complicated formula involving the age of the shirt and the ratio between the number of fans that the band had at the time and the number of fans it has now. There are also adjustments based on the band's home country, the country of the show, and the country the shirt appears to be from.

But as with many things, if you have to ask you probably can't afford it.
posted by Slothrup at 2:36 PM on April 26, 2015 [8 favorites]


I haven't been to a big outdoor concert/festival in years, but at the ones I've been to the people dressed to impress were a small minority of attendees. Has that changed, or is this just an article focused on how marketers and photographers of festivals emphasize a certain look?
posted by Dip Flash at 2:45 PM on April 26, 2015


This "festival look" is definitely a thing now. Also check out any Coachella galleries (ignoring that a lot of celebrities probably aren't quite roughing it out there).

I think this piece has its issues but I also think she has some points -- you can't just go to a festival anymore for the music. You're there to be seen. And the pressure to be "seen" falls much more heavily on young women. Yes, it's a ridiculous idea to be all dewy and fresh and gorgeous when you've been camping three days in the rain, but there's still this expectation of it.

As someone who's traversed "men's" spaces and also likes fashion and likes dressing up, I can see both sides. I like looking cute when I go to shows (partially because it helps with my own sense of self-confidence) but I'm going to wear the practical shoes. As I've gotten older, I've cared less -- I'm over waiting for people to tell me if I belong somewhere. If I show up somewhere, I belong there, regardless of what I'm wearing. But it took me a really long time to learn that.

I always felt a little "above" fashion magazines and such (I always knew there were silly and unrealistic even when I liked them) but I think if I was in my early 20s and planning on camping out at a music festival, there would be some part of me that would be like "Oh, I have to look good while I'm there too?" So I get what she's saying that it's not a space for women to just go like music. There's an extra element of pressure added for women most men probably don't have to think about.

(I don't know if these festivals ever were -- they always sounded like my version of hell, as much as I love music and don't hate camping. I may be going to Maryland Deathfest though, but that's probably a bit different. And I kind of assume most of these "festival look" guides won't apply there.)
posted by darksong at 4:17 PM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


The average British woman does not spend £500,000 on fashion in her life. That's a fucking ridiculous number without any basis whatsoever, even in the article that the figure comes from.
posted by howfar at 4:20 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


But what If I don't want to wear sturdy shoes and a warm jacket ? AmI kicked out of the official feminist club? The author might note what women wore at Woodstock.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:40 PM on April 26, 2015


But what If I don't want to wear sturdy shoes and a warm jacket ? AmI kicked out of the official feminist club? The author might note what women wore at Woodstock.

End of the article addresses this:
Women: dress down or up as much or as little as you like. I support your choice to wear unflattering, highly-practical hiking gear, just as much as I support your choice to wear nothing but a bikini and a fedora
There's a UK-specific aspect here that might not be reflected in the US, too. The mass media devotes a lot of coverage to Glastonbury now. But if your only knowledge of that festival came from the media, you'd think everyone there was a woman in her early 20s, wearing super-expensive fashion gumboots, glitter makeup, and floral tops. And there are some people like that at Glastonbury, and that's great. But the media erases all the other people who go there: you'll never see a photo of my 40-ish girlfriend (or me) wearing sensible clothes, even though a huge number of festival-goers look just like us. So I think that's part of the background to this article.
posted by Pink Frost at 4:53 PM on April 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


I would say that this 'fashion over music' attitude from the fashion industry is reflected in the US, actually. Coachella, at least, has really been infected by this. Perhaps it's due to Coachella's proximity to Los Angeles but the whole celebrity fashion thing (there are people going to Coachella just to do fashion and never even entering the Polo grounds where the music is) is super prevalent now. Lest I sound 'get off my lawn,' that sure as hell wasn't the point when I went ten years ago.

In fact, there's an entire article that just came out this week from the Atlantic entitled "How the Fashion Industry Co-Opted Coachella." Interestingly, a good chunk of the article describes how European fashion brands are the ones leading the charge. So I can only imagine that Glastonbury is even worse than the Coachella absurdity (it's fucking 100F at Coachella most years. Wear something that will prevent you from dying of heatstroke and sunburn. The End.).

As for the article, I think what the author was aiming for is reassurance. That is, reassurance to those who aren't interested in fashion being their primary memory of their time at a music festival that it's ok to wear their comfy clothes even if their comfies aren't fashionable. She could have emphasized the 'if you want to be fashionable, that's cool, too' a bit more but that's not her target audience.
posted by librarylis at 7:14 PM on April 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm vaguely annoyed that the author believes this marketing is aimed at people who actually attend festivals. This is an incredibly small market compared to the number of people whose purchases serve as surrogates for dreams of going to a festival.
posted by ethansr at 7:29 PM on April 26, 2015


Fashion IS important, especially for young people. Presentation is one of the first ways that budding adults get to publicly express and explore their adult personas. And anyone who says that they don't care about fashion is likely just experiencing a kind of privilege blindness because their personal style aligns closely enough with the mainstream that they don't notice it. People value their identity kits far more than most of them realize. Conservative, middle class white guys are nearly all in hardcore denial of this, but their facades are probably the easiest to crack. Fashion isn't stupid, silly, or purely superficial.

That's such a depressing paragraph. I know women have it a thousand times worse, but I sure wish I could just wear clothes without it having to mean something.
posted by straight at 8:13 PM on April 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


The first time I went to Coachella I was bored to tears by all the people in their boring So-Cal undergraduate garb, all alike. But I came from raves and Burning Man and hippie festivals where people made an effort, especially if the conditions were difficult. That's a bit different than people just buying branded "festival" togs, but Coachella might at least have better people watching now.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:28 PM on April 26, 2015


I dunno, where's the line between festival fashion and rock n roll cosplay?
posted by maryr at 8:54 PM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, I want fashion wellies. My fox boots have a hole in them and I can't bear to replace them with some boring polka dots or stripes. DAY GLO GLOW IN THE DARK LACE PRINT RUBBER BOOTS FOR ALL!

Yellow rubber duckies also acceptable.
posted by maryr at 9:02 PM on April 26, 2015


There are two things in the FPP that stand out:

(1) The assumption that, if you're a young woman at a festival, you are virtually on duty to provide pleasant aesthetic stimulation to other (i.e., mostly male) festivalgoers, and/or in an ongoing real-time beauty contest with other young women. The women who go there to see the bands and just wear jeans, a faded T-shirt and some Doc Martens which have seen better days (i.e., what a dude might easily get away with wearing) are therefore letting themselves down.

(2) The assumption that women don't go to festivals just for the music, because their little ladybrains aren't adapted for truly understanding the finer distinctions of psych-garage, vaporwave, hard-wonky or whatever, and while women have a place at festivals, the place is to compete for the male gaze, and looking cute in a Sonic Youth T-shirt purchased at H&M is one way to go about this.

<speculation>
I wonder whether the increased pressure on women to compete for the male gaze is a symptom of the prevailing currents in the post-social-democratic neoliberal world order, i.e., the feeling that inequality is here to stay and will only increase, that men have the financial clout, and it's every man for himself, and also that the future will be, as Thomas Piketty suggests, one of dynasties and patrimonies inheriting and holding fast their place in the social hierarchy. In such a world, a woman's best chance of making it (and, should she have children, giving them an advantage) is by attracting a mate who is likely to be successful. Therefore, young women no longer have the luxury of cutting their hair short, wearing grungy clothes, not wearing make-up or giving zero fucks about where they fall competitively in the scale of attractiveness. Even if one doesn't consciously think of this or make those decisions, perhaps they have subconsciously entered the currents of cultural transmission, and manifested themselves in an increased anxiety among young women about where they fall in the leaderboard of attractiveness.
</speculation>
posted by acb at 5:01 AM on April 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


That's such a depressing paragraph. I know women have it a thousand times worse, but I sure wish I could just wear clothes without it having to mean something.

Why? It's not as though clothing is unique in that sense. It's just one example of the fact that, living in society, you cannot not communicate.

Your personal presentation communicates information about you, even if that information is "I am not interested in fashion" or "I don't want to attract attention with my appearance." But the way you dress and otherwise present yourself is influenced by social and cultural semiotics, just like everything else is. It conveys information about your gender presentation, your priorities and interests, and all kinds of information, abstract and concrete. Most people who think it is tragic and horrible that fashion can't just mean nothing tend to convey the information that they are clean, 'practical,' and have middle class sensibilities. And occasionally information about their favorite football team or bands they like.

There is nothing inherently tragic about that. You can convey whatever you like. It's not all just crass consumerism and elaborate mating rituals. And for a lot of people, often young women, it's a fun, creative process that they control fairly consciously to project their interests, sensibilities, and even mood. And that's really cool.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:47 AM on April 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


At least as far as Coachella (the only major music festival I've been to), I think the fashion itself ("boho" "festival-chic" or whatever you want to call it) is very much secondary to the primary pressure on young attendees, which is the pressure to be skinny; granted, this is a common enough aspect of fashion, but all the most "iconic" festival looks are those sported by the young and slender, who can wear extremely short shorts and fringed bikini tops.

I go to a popular ballet barre studio in LA, and every year in the spring they run "Get your Coachella body sale"- and "Coachella diets" are a thing seen on popular women's lifestyle sites like refinery29 et al.
posted by Aubergine at 9:13 AM on April 27, 2015


The only fests I've ever been to were of the heavy music variety -- Maryland Deathfest, as darksong mentions above, and Emissions from the Monolith are two that come to mind. The former was/is held in inner city Baltimore and the latter on the outskirts of Youngstown, OH. Pretty much all the attendees, men and women, wore black concert tees and jeans, especially at the Deathfest. So much conformity! Staring into that sea of black-clad bodies was pretty mesmerizing. I rebelled and wore a white Scorpions tee one day, mainly so others could spot me more easily. There was one couple in attendance where the man wore a blue button down shirt and chinos(!) and the woman was in an elegant linen sheath dress, her hair pulled back in a bun. Still to this day I wonder what the heck they were doing at a Bolt Thrower concert.
posted by medeine at 1:07 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Most people who think it is tragic and horrible that fashion can't just mean nothing tend to convey the information that they are clean, 'practical,' and have middle class sensibilities.

I don't know about tragic and horrible, but I personally find it really exhausting. I don't think it's just about wanting to express practicality; it's also about wishing that there were options that didn't come with some kind of public judgment attached. This comic comes to mind.
posted by naoko at 8:55 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


But that's like bemoaning the fact that there is no universally recognizable neutral facial expression or tone of voice. Yes, there is a lot of unfair and ridiculous public judgment attached to clothing choices, but the problem with situations like that are that people are being sexist (classist, etc.) assholes, not clothing semiotics as a whole.

And if you look at what we come up with when we attempt to specify a 'neutral' uniform, it always ends up being the uniform of white male middle class, middle aged, mid-level corporate employees. Whenever a public school decides to adopt a neutral dress code, they end up with chinos and polo shirts, so seeing groups of students walking together, it looks like a golf course seriously overbooked the 8AM tee time or Globo Chem sent the whole customer service department home at the same time.

One of the first things they do when you enter a total institution such as a prison or the military is that they take away your identity kit, issue a uniform and maybe cut off your hair. That is how they 'reform' you, by stripping away your personal identifiers and re-creating you as a cog in a specific machine. And that's probably why prison tattoos and uniform modifications and such are such a huge part of prison culture. People crave that expression.

I suspect that a lot of the reason people go along with this sort of thing is because clothing is coded as a feminine interest. We're so much better primed to perceive it as superficial, catty, and frivolous than we are all the other things that people use to distinguish themselves.

Yes, women get more crap for the way they dress than men do, but the part that's wrong is the part about the crap, not about the fact that clothing has social significance. Dressing to convey information can be a normal, healthy creative outlet and a way to convey information that is important to the wearer, but moreover, it's inevitable, and is far more useful and important than most of us recognize.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:41 AM on April 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm sure that I'm a failure as a woman and a human being because I dress to be comfortable when I'm planning to be outdoors all day in 90 degree heat, but I actually think I can live with that, because I'm there to listen to music, not to convey information or meet with your approval.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:27 PM on April 29, 2015


That is very nearly the exact opposite of what I am saying, though.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:41 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sure that I'm a failure as a woman and a human being because I dress to be comfortable when I'm planning to be outdoors all day in 90 degree heat, but I actually think I can live with that, because I'm there to listen to music, not to convey information or meet with your approval.

I am not sure that's a very fair interpretation of the preceding comment.
posted by howfar at 12:12 PM on April 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


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