Dressing For Music Festivals

“With music festival season almost upon us I was wondering if you had any ideas/advice about what to wear to Big Day Out type events? Almost everyone seems wears shorts and t-shirts and it’s so boring!”

I haven’t been to the Big Day Out (music festival in New Zealand & Australia) since 2001 (wow!), & last time I was there it seemed everyone was wearing Slipknot t-shirts & dog collars… but then, of course, the more you think about something, the more you see it!

Dressing for festivals can be tricky because, while they are a great place to be an exhibitionist & shock everyone with your fashion nous, you also have a lot of things to consider. Usually at a concert like this, you’re outside all day. You’re also on your feet most of the time. You want to be as mobile as possible, running from one stage to the next & jumping up & down like a nut. Often the music goes into the night, so it’s useful to have something warm with you — but then, of course, where do you put that item when you’re not wearing it?

I suspect that the reason most people dress in such a boring way is that when they start thinking about all the eventualities of a concert like this, they get overwhelmed & just go for what works. I would say that they are missing out on a huge part of the fun by not getting dressed up, but that’s my inner peacock talking. Not everyone is like us, you know!

So, here are the conditions of your outfit-to-be:
It must include comfortable footwear
You need to take something warm
You require a bag of some description
You want to look interesting

After mulling over all the options, may I suggest wearing a dress? (This goes for daring boys too.) Really, I know I have said it before, but it is pretty much the perfect piece of clothing. Sling it on, accessorise, & go. Throw a cardigan or hoodie over the top when the temperature drops & you’re totally golden. I love dresses! I cannot get enough.

Of course, the type of dress you wear is entirely up to you. It can be as revealing or modest as you like, in any colour & any shape — though if you’re thinking about going strapless, perhaps you should stay out of the moshpit. If you want to look fantastic & different to everyone else, go vintage! Get in before the crowds & shop for the perfect dress; if you leave it too late, all that will be left are the hideous taffeta bridesmaid’s dresses! If your locality doesn’t have a decent vintage store, Ebay is your best bet. Try searching for things like “vintage mini dress“, “vintage slip dress” or “50s dress“. You’re sure to find something completely wonderful. Remember to check the measurements carefully, only buy from people with great feedback, & to do it in advance! You don’t want it to arrive the day after the concert! Also beware of buying anything in polyester — it doesn’t breathe & you will heat up like a Christmas turkey. Not such a great look. If your dress is short, you might like to consider wearing leggings, hot pants or something else underneath, since if you’re jumping around or crowd-surfing, you probably don’t want everyone to see your loveliest bits.

Now you need to think about accesssories. Necklaces, bracelets, rings, anklets. Sunglasses, hats, turbans, piercing jewellery. Scarves, brooches, bow-ties, bunny ears, tiaras, legwarmers, fingerless gloves, spats, bindis, fake flowers, etc. You can really go nuts on accessories, though I would say make sure anything is reasonably secure. Don’t wear your most precious things because it is very likely it will disappear under the foot of someone who is really getting into the music. If you are really keen to stand out, have a look at the Burning Man people galleries. Some of these people spend all year on their costumes, & they are not usually in such close quarters as you will be at a music festival, but that doesn’t mean you can’t draw inspiration from them.

Then, of course, you will want comfortable shoes to wear with the dress of your dreams. Ballet flats or flip-flops might seem like a good idea, but when a big oaf is jumping around in front of you in his standard issue combat boots, you may start to worry about your pedicure. Or indeed having any toes left at all. I am convinced that the babydoll-dress-&-combat-boots look popularised by Courtney Love et aliae was borne from the need to protect one’s feet from moshers. Big boots are really your best defence. If all you have are a pair of beaten up cowboy boots, then wear those. Just think: the thicker the leather the better, & a bit of ankle support is always welcome if you think you’re going to be bouncing up & down all day.

Don’t forget to take something warm, because it always gets cooler at night, & being cold & unable to do anything about it can be really miserable. A thin cardigan or pashmina might be all you need, but if you think it’s going to get a lot colder, try a little structured jacket, like a blazer, a long thick cardigan or a faux-fur shrug. Usually they don’t allow you to leave the venue & come back, so you will have to carry whatever you want to bring in. You can check your coat but it will take a while, & if it suddenly gets cold or starts raining, you probably don’t want to stand in a queue for an hour while you try to get it back.

For this reason alone, you will need some kind of bag. Whatever the size, definitely make sure it has a strap on it. You can wear it across your body, over one shoulder or on your back, but if you have to physically hold it with your hands all day, you are going to go mental. A small messenger bag or satchel is pretty much perfect, because you can throw it across your body & forget about it. If your warm item is too big to fit in your bag, tie the arms of it around the straps. I like to do a double or triple knot to make sure it stays on. Remember to always always always do up the zips or buttons — you don’t want to be a target for pick-pockets or other cretins! You can check bags at the venue but be aware that it will take a long time & is not necessarily 100% secure.

While you might want to try standing out by wearing fairy wings or a huge inflatable alien strapped to your back, remember that a lot of your day will include being pressed up against complete strangers (moshpits) or navigating small, grotty spaces (toilets). Anything unwieldy WILL drive you nuts & you will probably end up throwing it away. This is a bit of a waste & you might as well save your money (& the environment). When it comes to festival wear — as with anything — think before you buy!

You might also want to consider the environment you’re going to be in. Wearing something truly beautiful is all well & good, but at most festivals, you have to deal with smelly, disgusting bathroom facilities (wet floors, too); drunken people who cannot seem to hold their cups upright; grass or mud as a seat, etc. Some people don’t mind messing up their clothing, some do. I, personally, loathe wearing anything I consider to be remotely precious in what I would call a slightly hostile environment. On the flipside, some people think clothing is meant to be worn to death & if your dress gets ripped to shreds in a vivacious moshpit, then it died a good death & oh well, onwards & upwards! Work out which camp you’re in & then plan accordingly!

When it comes to makeup, GO NUTS. This is the peeeeerfect opportunity to paint yourself up like a member of the Moulin Rouge or Marilyn Manson’s entourage. I would, however, suggest practicing it ahead of time. Also think about the environment you’re going to be in — usually these festivals are held smack in the middle of summer. It will be hot. If you use crappy makeup, you might find it sliding off your face before the afternoon is up. Fledgling makeup artists beware!

Other things to take, do & remember (ideas snagged from here):
Leave all your brutal jewellery at home — meaning spiked cuffs, crazy gauntlets & diamante-encrusted knuckledusters.
Check the back of your ticket for prohibited items (video cameras, alcohol & umbrellas) & don’t take them with you — they will just get confiscated, sometimes permanently.
Take an unopened (plastic) bottle of water & some snacks. Being hungry sucks, especially if you don’t want to eat the scary hot dogs or whatever they have at the venue.
Have a good breakfast, you’ll need it!
To put in your bag: identification, your ticket, sunblock, cellphone (fully charged & with credit), medication & a digital camera. If you have any serious conditions, like epilepsy, diabetes or asthma, put a (big) piece of paper in your bag & write your condition & an emergency contact number on it.
Stay hydrated & out of the sun as much as you can! Wear a hat to help protect you from the heat.
Remember that the usual laws about drugs apply at festivals, too. People who are caught dealing or in possession of anything naughty will get their ass handed to them. They have sniffer dogs at the gate & a visible police presence. Be careful!
Work out how you’re getting home & organise a place & time to meet whoever might be giving you a ride. “I’ll meet you at the gate when it’s over” is not sufficient, okay?!
Take money. Odds are, you or one of your friends will want one of those scary hot dogs eventually. They also usually have a harae krishna stall where they sell excellent vegetarian samosas & apple juice which they bless (!!!), both of which are incredibly tasty.

I hope everyone who goes along has an AMAZING time! Feel free to share your best festival tips here, it’s great to have them all in one place!