Festival fever: Our tips and 12 must-have shopping picks for surviving music festival season

Festival fever
Festival fever

To those about to brave summer music festival season, we salute you. You’re about to enter the void of abnormally oppressive heat, witnessing filthy bodies flailing from side to side and a steady barrage of nudity, whether you like it or not. It’s all for the music, man—though for the sartorially inclined, it’s really all about the clothes.

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Every year around this time, thousands of music lovers flock to locales across North America and Europe for weekend-long celebrations of peace, love and cut-offs. Think Woodstock 2.0, where the new brand of flower children wear hair wreaths purchased at Urban Outfitters, performers don Céline (ahem, Kanye), and the only cause is having your picture taken by a street-style blogger.

Music festivals such as Coachella (California), Bonnaroo (Tennessee) and Osheaga (Montreal) have become important trend-breeding grounds for designers and retailers; festivalgoer fashion items like crop tops, feathered headdresses, knit vests and flowy maxi dresses have become almost as relevant as what comes down the ready-to-wear runways. “It’s like another season in fashion—you’ve got fall /winter, spring /summer, and festival,” says Tiyana Grulovic, fashion editor at The Globe and Mail. “A music festival is street style gone wild. There’s a certain mood out there, this bohemian free-spirit vibe that allows people to let loose in a lot of ways, fashion being one of them.”

That vibe has resonated since the original rock gods put their stamp on festival style at Woodstock during the summer of ’69—Janis Joplin’s circular rose-tinted glasses, Jim Morrison’s lace-up leather pants and Jimi Hendrix’s headscarves. But its transference into our collective style consciousness can be chalked up to one now-iconic look: Kate Moss, Glastonbury, 2005. Wearing tiny cut-offs, a black buttoned vest and—the festival pièce de résistance—mud-covered Hunter wellington boots, she redefined the look of a supermodel as she traipsed across the show grounds with then-boyfriend (and Babyshambles frontman) Pete Doherty. That paparazzi shot of Moss inspired leagues of lookalikes, propelling the British heritage brand’s wellies to the forefront of cooldom. And the love fest continues. Two summers ago, H&M released a Fashion Against AIDS festival-centric capsule collection of fringed tops, bleach-dyed paper shorts and printed sleeping bags. This spring, Dsquared designers Dean and Dan Caten showed cheeky festival-ready wear (waist-tied plaid button downs, studded belts, aviators and cut-off rock tees) on a muddy runway, with models carrying bottles of beer. Elsewhere on spring’s runways, Isabel Marant’sbrand of easy elegance took the form of crafty thick-knit hoodies, breezy sheer cover-ups and pink patchwork jeans; Michael Kors showed hand-dyed multicoloured maxi dresses; and Burberry Prorsum mixed raffia and woven leather into its summerweight parkas.

Festival fever

High-fashion festival looks generate buzz, but any true showgoer will confess that practicality trumps all. Sharlene Chiu, a host on MTV Canada who’s covered festivals including South by Southwest, Austin City Limits and Bestival for MTV News and her own show, Sharlene VS., recalls her first festival experience at Scotland’s T in the Park: “I thought I was going to be different by not succumbing to dressing for the climate. The result was that I totally ruined my favourite pair of black leather riding boots. Mud was splattered all over my legs and on my custom cashmere jacket. Who wears cashmere to a festival? Lesson learned, the hard way.” Thinking of wearing a jumper? Think again. “I know they look super cute but they are porta-potty hell,” says Chiu. “The last thing you want to be doing is taking off a onesie in a tiny disgusting space while trying not to touch anything.”

So, what do the fest-curious need in order to survive a weekend of filthy freedom? Aside from a penchant for the absurd, a water bottle and SPF-laden products, you’ll need proper coverage. A wide-brim hat or baseball-style cap (à la Kenzo) is imperative to avoid heat stroke, and closed-toe flats or rain boots will save your feet from a world of dirt and danger. “I broke my ankle wearing flip-flops last year in a big open field,” says Lauren Baker, owner of LAB Consignment boutique in Toronto. A bathing suit or bikini serves dual purpose worn with a favourite sundress or jean shorts; if you’re lucky, there will be a recycled-water fountain nearby where you can cool off.

As for me? After surviving a weekend of blistering heat at last summer’s Bonnaroo, I’ve learned that even sleeves are too hot. So I’m co-opting my older brother’s collection of grunge concert T-shirts and slicing their sides open—a perfect way to peepshow my striped bikini top and catch a welcome bit of breeze.

Given these warnings of death by sweat stain, why would anyone with a sound mind consider attending a festival? “As much psychological and physical damage as festivals cause me, I always come back. Nothing beats the feeling you get from coming together with thousands of people to love and enjoy music,” says Chiu. “I’m a festival masochist, I guess.” 

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