Music festival fashion is an interesting phenomenon. For three or four days, you have an excuse to show off all the weird, trendy things you love but can’t wear in real life. For me, this means fringe bandeaus, sheer vests, and lacey shorts. Now that festival fashion has become a mainstream thing, it’s hard to walk past a store in the mall without seeing studded shorts and daisy prints. Remember Forever 21’s 2013 Festival Capsule Collection? It was inspired by celebrity fashion at Coachella.
The problem with drawing inspiration from celebs at Coachella is that you don’t (presumably) have a stylist, or access to VIP lounges where a make-up artist will re-apply your lipstick. I have no idea if this is what actually goes on in VIP lounges, but the point is, most festivals are not like Coachella.
I have a suspicion that most of the music festival fashion guides I've seen are written by people who have never attended a camping music festival (one-day VIP passes to Governor’s ball don’t count) like Bonnaroo, Firefly or Camp Bisco. It’s easy to flaunt a boho-chic ensemble at a VIP event, but try finding a way to make your yellow rain poncho look cute. Real music-festival style is about cozy layers, artfully clashing colors, and avoiding that guy who is covered in mud and trying to give everyone hugs. Here are my tips for nailing it.
1. Figure out a layering strategy.
Festivals are notorious for unpredictable weather. You’ll want to have options for cold, rainy nights and 95 degree days. I like C&C California long sleeve t-shirts for layering -- they’re lightweight, so you won’t get too hot. I usually buy a size too big, so I easily slip it on over a tank top or bandeau.
2. Don't bring a “real” bra unless you have to.
I might be biased because I am an A-cup, but underwire bras have no place at a music festival (or any part of my life). There’s a reason bandeau bras are so popular. They’re comfortable, and you can wear them as a top without being judged. Bralettes -- bandeaus with straps -- are ideal, because you can dance all you want without worrying that the thing is going to slide down your stomach. My favorite is a halter bralette from Free People. The halter strap looks cute peaking out from a tank, or underneath another bralette if you want more coverage.
3. Wear some REALLY comfortable shoes.
You’re going to be walking and dancing for three or four days -- don’t wear gladiator sandals. Most festivals are set up with a considerable amount of distance between the stages and the campsites, and when you are traipsing back and forth at night, comfort will trump style. Merrells, or -- shudder -- Crocs are a good bet. They’re not the cutest, but they’ll be covered in so much mud that it won’t matter. I wore my favorite sneakers to my first festival, and destroyed them racing back and forth from Coldplay to MGMT. (It was worth it.)
4. Remember, rain boots are your friend!
I’ve never been to a festival where it didn’t pour for a day straight. Last year, at Wakarusa, there was mud literally up to my knees. Rain boots (or wellies, if you like that word as much as I do) will save you at a festival. You can go with a playful print, like these Ted Baker watercolor wellies, or you could stick to the classics. My Hunter boots have gotten me through four festivals, and many rainy days in between. They’re still in great condition. Check the seam on the back of the boot, though. My shorter Hunters have a more pronounced seam, and it dug into my heel. Not good, especially for dancing! Fortunately, Dr. Scholls inserts solved the problem for me.
5. Dress up during the day (and down at night).
There’s going to be down time during the day. That’s when you should show off your more fashion-forward pieces. Jewelry and fringe bandeaus can be a burden when you’re trying to dance, but not when you’re lounging at the campsite. I’ve noticed a lot of girls will wear gym shorts and a bikini top during the day, and flaunt belly-chains and maxi dresses at night. I’d rather do the opposite. If you really want to show off your elaborate bodysuit, wear it while you check out the vendors in between sets, not when you are drunk and trying to use a port-a-potty at 2 a.m.
For nighttime, find an outfit that’s trendy but leaves you unfettered to dance. Harem pants are a good option -- lightweight, comfortable, and sexier than sweats. H&M, Forever21, Urban Outfitters, and Zara have a great selection. If you’re not into harem pants, tons of stores offer patterned fashion pants that are a bit more fitted. I’m obsessed with these from Topshop. I’m also on a mission to find whimsical, silky pajama pants, like these from Anthropologie.
Keep warm on top with a faux-fur vest. Choose one that’s long, and has some type of closure. Depending on how cool it gets, you can layer it over a sweater or flannel, and still look chic.
6. Leave your purse at home.
If you must, at least let it be a small, crossbody bag. But even those get annoying as they swing back and forth when you’re dancing. Instead, wear a backpack. CamelBak “hydration packs” are popular at festivals, since they have room for 30 to 100 ounces of water, which you can conveniently sip from a tube, without taking it off your shoulders.
Fanny packs are also an option. For real. It’s good if you aren’t hauling a ton of stuff, and just need a safe place for your money and phone. Pendleton and Nasty Gal have some cute options that won’t make you look like a 90s dad.
7. Have fun with your hair and make-up.
Normally, I can’t go one day without washing my hair before it turns into a greasy mess. For some reason, this doesn’t happen at a festival, despite not being able to take a real shower for days. Call it festival magic, or the benefits of using dry shampoo. I usually will rinse off with a spray bottle (shower wrist-bands are $20 for a cold, communal shower) at least once a day, and put a little leave-in conditioner on the ends. I end up with silky, voluminous hair without much effort.
It’s incredibly easy to tease unwashed hair, as well. I like to experiment with big buns or headbands. American Apparel makes a wire headband that you can bend into different shapes. It stays in place, and comes in tons of colors and patterns.
As far as makeup, I am usually a minimalist. But at a festival, it’s fun to experiment! I’m not brave when it comes to lipstick, but I plan on trying one that my friend swears by -- Urban Outfitters’ Lime Crime. It comes in classic shades, as well as orange, blue, and bubble gum pink. It’s smudge proof, and stays on all day.
For eyeliner, you will want something waterproof. Urban Decay makes a great smudge-proof eyeliner, and it comes in a bunch of metallic shades. Use an eye-shadow palate, like this one from Bare Minerals to get sultry, Beyonce-worthy smoky eyes. (Disclaimer: while these products are pricy, they last way longer than drug-store makeup. I’ve had my Bare Minerals eye palate for two years.)
Don’t forget sunscreen! La Roche-Posay makes one with a tinted moisturizer, so you won’t have to worry about foundation.
If you’re going to make a statement with your lipstick, skip eye makeup, and vice versa. It will look like you are trying too hard, and you will be! You’re paying hundreds of dollars for this experience; don’t fixate on looking flawless. Fashion should enhance your weekend, not consume it.
What festivals are you guys going to this summer? Are you as excited as I am to show off your quirky festival fashion?