Stop Trying To Make "Festival Beauty" Happen

Unless it involves a big turkey leg and a corset, hard pass.
Publish date:
April 1, 2016
music, festival, cultural appropriation, Vanessa Hudgens, bindis, music festivals

Like many of you, I am not super-into paying copious amount of money to be incarcerated in a dust bowl with thousands of inebriated strangers to an endless rhythmic oonz-oonz in the distance. That's pretty much the state of wholesale live music — yes, with many acts that you would love to see but more importantly to be seen seeing, if you catch my drift.

"Festival season" has, in the sartorial world, somehow become the 21st-century Resort Season for college-ish-aged people who don't necessarily timeshare in Barbados every year, but would throw down for a cramped AirBnb with 12 of their closest friends for a weekend at Coachella.

I wouldn't think twice about it were it not for the constant marketing email reminders to "get your festival beauty must-haves!" or "how to survive festival season!" (it's easy, just don't die). Judging by all the coverage and "tips'n'tricks," I can only wonder, "Is literally everyone migrating to these things?" Addendum: "Am I a poor?"

In the beauty world, "festival beauty" has been very earnestly trying to become a thing in the past four, maybe five years? It talks about itself as if it had been here the entire time, the little sister eagerly tagging along with cool big sis, "red carpet season" (which is really only a thing for the people who work in that industry where they're getting paid to participate in it or cover it — and believe me, we resent it just as much). Festival beauty is basically a living breathing Free People look book, a collage of all things fringed, crocheted, feathered, and Hunter Booted (for those in the UK). At some point, someone probably saw a photo of Janis Joplin or perhaps a Starbucks cup and decided that the official Festival Hair should look like the Glam Squad version of that because otherwise how can you sell it? I mean, that type of hair looks great year-round honestly, but put a flower crown or feather headdress on it and BAM: instant festival look.

But then everyone realized that apparently wearing ritualistic adornments of Native tribes as fashion accessories is in fairly poor taste. In fact, you can't wear them anymore to some music festivals. Non-South-Asians wearing bindis, they're coming for you too.

For everyone wondering, "What's the big deal? I think these are cool," the writer of this op-ed puts it pretty simply: “It may not be the most offensive thing you could do, but I think it’s insensitive and unintentionally disrespectful.”You can shame people all you want into not appropriating other cultures, yet every year there's always a handful of slideshows showcasing all of the people who didn't get that memo. At this point it's pretty much synonymous with festival style. Native headdresses are essentially the large foam hand with the pointed finger at a sports rally.

If all of this is now collectively understood as tacky, distasteful and disrespectful yet is implicitly perceived as the backbone of festival style, isn't pushing "festival style" kind of like telling kids if they're going to drink to do it in the house? Look like a free spirit, just not that free spirit!

The only thing I might be able to relate to on this level is one time I wore a cute Qipao-style dress to a school dance (it was the late '90s when anything "Mandarin-style" was cool... but only if you weren't actually Asian) and was snidely remarked as "China doll" by my peers (as well as their parents carpooling us to the school gymnasium) which was — wait for it — intended to be complimentary. When a friend told me that I wore the style better than the other girls because "at least you're, like, actually Chinese," my face burned red with a stifled bewilderment at the obviousness of that statement but mostly the otherness that it relegated me to. And then Jennifer Paige's "Crush" came on and everyone ran to the dance floor.

Cultural appropriation notwithstanding, I'm still generally confused by the pageantry involved in attending a music festival. It seems to rely heavily on accessorizing much more than usual — generally on your head. There's also temporary tattoos and other types of face-painting involved. Festival goers today generally look to all these watered-down ideas of what Woodstock theoretically was like.

I've only attended music festivals in NYC, so I never had to worry about sleeping in a tent or not having access to a shower after a sandstorm. If that's your situation, definitely bring many wipes, dry shampoo, and for the love of god — sunscreen. It's kind of the same stuff you'd pack to go camping.

What I'm annoyed by is having another series of events that honestly have nothing to do with fashion or beauty in general suddenly impose itself into beauty and style verticals and demand that everyone "get festival-ready." I can't ask a magazine spread, "But I'm pretty sure not everyone goes to these things?"

Understandably, fashion and beauty trends take cues from everyday people embodying some sort of culture, but never has it been so aggressively bent on commoditizing that and selling it back to us for one made-up season. Never mind the flippant assumption that everyone will procure the means, let alone has the desire, to spend all that money on festival tickets alone, as well as accommodations and now a $300 curling iron for the perfect festival 'do.

Of those who do attend — and even more so those who don't — the images we see are generally of privileged kids parading around in other cultures' dressings coupled with vintage-style apparel. Camera-ready beachy waves (despite most of these festivals taking place in a desert), intricate braids on braids, a fake bake, face decals, and Flash tattoos are all de rigueur of festival stylings. Maybe no one will admit it, but they're a little sad they can't add some feathers as well.

Music is great. Concerts are great. So is cool hair and carefree clothes. Just... can we not pretend that "festival season" is the second coming of prom? Can we agree that there really doesn't need to be some micro-economy profiting off of so many twenty-somethings' spring break budgets in the name of some marketing-invented vanity — that same marketing machine that eggs on those less informed or less aware to release their inner "gypsy princess" or whatever the confused moniker is these days that'll sell a jeweled face veil or whatever.

It's these uneasy undertones that make me side-eye a whole biz that aims to create a season off of the whims of a rather specific group of people belonging to a specific socio-economic standing — and, indeed, the wish-they-all-could-be-California-Girls blondeness of it all — that really irks me the most.

Stop trying to make "Festival Beauty" happen and just go to a damn music festival in your own style and, like, maybe see a band you enjoy.