Festivals are all about fun, music, art, self-expression. They are these bizarre spaces in which we are momentarily separated from real life and allowed to immerse ourselves in letting go and enjoying the moment and art in many forms. It seems odd, then, that such an established idea of how to dress emerged from such a space. Yet, when I say “festival style”, you're probably already forming a mental image of a uniform made up of cut-offs, boho accessories, face paint and cultural appropriation.
I don't want it to seem, however, that I'm just a kill joy. I totally get that the same atmosphere I just lauded would have people wanting to break from the norm, try something different, experiment with their look and give them an increased sartorial freedom to do things with their hair, makeup and clothes that won't lead to being stared at or people questioning their sanity. That sense of freedom and fun is a fantastic thing and I merely wonder why it is not full embraced but, rather, used to regurgitate the same things over and over again.
I think, perhaps, the phenomenon of celebrity festival style is to blame. All summer, as we plan how to spend our holidays, while in school or college, and stare out the office window wistfully, waiting for a vacation as adults, our social media is bombarded with images of perfectly coiffed and toned celebrities. Their holiday pictures from luxury resorts are, of course, enviable but I think it is the images of mudless bodies at Glastonbury and sweatless, perfectly made up faces at Coachella that have seem to set us apart. That unattainable perfection and apparent ease seems particularly glamorous in comparison to the heady, chaotic experience most of us have of festivals – though I would argue one is not necessarily better than the other. When we see pictures of the beautiful people floating around festivals, looking as though they stepped out of a music video or magazine, it is hard not to want the same for ourselves but it is easy to forget the team behind it. And those teams are often lead by stylists who work for multiple clients. As a result, those enviable looks can get quite samey.
From an Irish perspective, the style championed by celebrities at the likes of Coachella is also particularly unsuited as the scale, amenities, culture and weather conditions couldn't be more different. I've seen many people stay in hotels to attend Coachella, whereas that is virtually unheard of here. In addition, sun and potential sandstorms are swapped out for cold and potential torrential rain. That means that those booty shorts might not be the best option if you don't want to freeze to death, you're probably going to have to style your outfit around wellies and elaborate hair and makeup sans daily showers, mirrors and tools is going to be pretty difficult to achieve.
Comfort and ease, it seems should be the things that dictate how one dresses at festivals but I've often seen people running around in things that couldn't offer either of those things. However, the main thing that this entire article is trying to get across is that, despite all those festival style guides floating around out there, nothing beats being comfortable, being prepared and being true to your own style. So, here's my alternative festival style guide:
1. Dress in light layers that can be built up for warmth, used to cover you should the sun (miraculously) become strong, and can be easily shorn should you end up in the middle of a hot crowd.
2. Invest in a raincoat that is cute, light and actually waterproof.
3. Similarly, proper footwear, that is waterproof, will make your festival more enjoyable. If you don't want to go the wellie route, Docs are another good investment. Mine have lasted me years, have seen me through many a festival and gig, protected my feet from being trampled and never let water in. Another option to consider, if Docs aren't your style, might be Timberland boots, which offer a more urban edge.
4. If it might be appropriation, just don't do it. I know you saw someone else do it and thought it was cute and, hey, maybe people from that culture don't see it that way (I've read that Japanese people, for example, like foreigners to try out and appreciate kimonos and Koreans feel similarly about hanbok) but it's better to be safe than sorry. With cameras everywhere these days, you might not want to end up being debated on social media or a website. Or, worse yet, don't want to have to delete your own pictures later when the belated shame hits you.
5. Have fun with your look. Face paint, glitter, temporary tattoos, hair chalk, etc. There are lots of products out there now that are easily accessible and look great on Tumblr but that you might be too shy out on the daily: now's your chance.
6. Don't try to force it. Again, you saw someone else do the boho thing and thought it was cute and, if you want to go for it, do but there is also a difference between appreciating and doing. If you're a style chameleon that always tries new things, go for it! But if wearing something doesn't make you comfortable and you're trying to force it in order to match someone else's idea of style, you're better off not doing it at all.
7. Try new things. This point may seem to contradict the last but there is a subtle difference between the two. Instead of tying to be something you're not, try being an exaggerated version of yourself, something a little more joyous. You can try different colours or silhouettes or one item in a look that's a bit out there for you, without donning a costume.
8. Don't buy lots of new things just for a festival. There are several reasons for this. (a) Festivals can be messy and people can rob tents so you might not want to bring/wear anything you'd be devastated to lose. (b) Unless it's boots or a raincoat, as I suggested, you might not want to waste lots of money on something you might never wear again/lose etc. (c) If you shop with a festival in mind, you might fall victim to exactly what I've been talking about and buy things you'd never normally wear and that aren't you at all.
9. Don't bring anything that needs ironing/is difficult to put on or style/you can't pee readily in. Seriously, it's for your own good.
10. All festival style guides are kind of bullshit anyway so just ignore everything I've said, if you wish.
Bonus: Just have fun and keep safe during the madness.