Festival fashion is stuck in the era of Kate Moss v Sienna Miller – with one exception
There was once a myth, Charlotte, that festivals were Britain’s fashion crucibles. They were almost holy places where the edgiest new fashions were birthed and unveiled, and freelance photographers risked life and limb, throwing themselves in front of packs of young women in Reading and Somerset in the hope of catching an early glimpse of a nascent new style – half undone boilersuits, perhaps? Glitter on lips? Oh, what new style would emerge, like the Christ child, on this site of Sodom that might then merit that holiest of holiest of celebrations, a photo spread in Grazia?
But then, a strange thing happened. It turned out festival fashion is, in fact, a lot like summer fashion, in that once people find something that works, it never, ever changes. And it turned out that festival fashion peaked in that seismic era we shall call the Boho Sienna/Kate’n’Pete era, and never altered a jot since. Oh, what was this magical era, you ask? Come closer children, Ol’ Granny Time here has tales to tell you from a long ago age.
Once upon a time, back in ye olde 2004, a young fairy princess called Sienna Miller went to Glastonbury wearing a black, tiered mini dress, a studded belt, neon-framed sunglasses and a pair of Uggs, and even though it makes no sense to wear Uggs at a British festival, the world shook with excitement, and festival fashion was deemed to have been altered for ever. The following year, Kate Moss turned up with a strange feral pet, who was later discovered to answer to the name of Pete Doherty, and, having seen Miller’s audacious grab at fashion queen status the summer before, Moss upped her game, and stomped around Glastonbury in, alternately, a pair of hot pants teamed with a waistcoat, and a shimmery Lurex dress paired with wellies. The world applauded. Never mind Mayweather v McGregor: this was the era of real rivalries, the kind not seen since the legendary Country House v Roll With It battle that Britain has never really recovered from.
And that, to be honest, is kinda where festival fashion has stayed ever since. Oh, sure, the addition of Alexa Chung and her denim hot pants sparked some interest, but really, Mossy was doing that years ago. As a result, all festival fashion has amounted to ever since is hot pants with wellies, vintage-esque dresses (bought from Asos) with wellies – and that’s about the size of it. You can throw in a playsuit, here, a jumpsuit there, but, let’s be honest, they just look a bit try-hard, given everyone knows what a nightmare they will be when you have to undo them in the portable toilets. And, fine, celebrities can wear jazzy heels, or cropped tops, or prom dresses, but they don’t really count, given that festivals are now so luxe that celebrities don’t actually go to festivals: they stay in five-star Airstreams and occasionally step out to a VIP terrace to watch Ed Sheeran entertaining some peasants. What really counts is what “the civilians” are wearing, and the wisest of civilians have stuck pretty much to the 2004 and 2005 formula, if they can be bothered to make an effort at all.
There is, however, one exception to this “festival fashion is nonsense” rule, and that is Bestival, which is happening this weekend. Now, I really take my hat off to this plucky little festival, which has somehow risen up to become Britain’s most delightful music festival, second only to the mighty G. I’ve been to Bestival three times and it really is the only one where dressing up doesn’t make people look like misguided attention-seekers. In fact, last time I went I didn’t dress up at all and I felt about as ridiculous as a person wearing a tutu and fairy wings in the middle of a thunderstorm at T in the Park. This, I think, is because the festival somehow manages to be quirky, but not in an annoying way, which is an incredibly difficult trick to pull off, given that “quirky” is usually Latin for “unbelievably effing annoying, confuses stupid hair colour and oversized glasses for a personality”. This means that if you don’t get into the spirit, you don’t look too-cool-to-try – you just look a bit rubbish.
This year’s fancy dress theme (like I said, it’s quirky) is “colour”, which is definitely easier than last year’s “future”, although it does have fewer pleasingly camp possibilities than 2012’s “HMS Bestival” (I have a very strong memory of a young man in a tight Breton shirt, eyebrow-pencil moustache and chaps from that year, which is really quite a look to pull of on the Isle of Wight, in September, in the drizzle).
So what I’m saying, Charlotte, is, frankly, forget festival fashion themes. It’s as absurd as saying “rainy-day fashion”: you’ll wear whatever gets you through unscathed and gangrene free. But the exception to this is actual fancy dress, and only Bestival manages to do this well, so we’ll have to wait until the end of this coming weekend for this year’s highlights. But I’ll leave you with words of wisdom from the goddess of festival dressing, Kate Moss, when I once asked her at Glastonbury what she was wearing: “Who cares?” Words to live by, my friends. Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU.