This festival season, Elizabeth Greatrex explores the roots of some popular festival fashion statements, and the part that legendary festival Woodstock 1969 had to play in inspiring generations of modern festival goers.
It is July, which means we are officially in the midst of summer. Or so our calendars tell us – the unpredictable weather changes seem to be giving us mixed signals. Nevertheless, whether it be sunny, rainy, or somewhere inbetween, the festival season is most definitely upon us. And like always, everyone is embracing it.
Attending a festival during this season is a rite of passage for many people across the globe, who are determined to enjoy themselves to the fullest. It is easy to see why as festivals are, and always have been, exciting for many reasons. Even if just for a day, people flock to experience fantastic live music, bond with friends, make unforgettable memories, forget their troubles and live in the moment.
However, there is another part of going to a festival which many people revel in the most: the fashion. There is no better place to express your individuality and take pride in wearing the clothes that make you feel truly alive and happy. If festivals are anything, they are certainly not boring – so neither should the fashion be!
Embracing the culture of the festival with extravagant or rebellious fashion certainly isn’t a modern idea. And when one thinks of a memorable festival that took some serious steps forward in encouraging expressive festival attire, there is only one word that comes to mind: Woodstock.
Woodstock was a music festival held near White Lake in Bethel, New York, from the 15th-18th August 1969. Over three days, 32 acts performed outdoors, including John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, The Who and Jimi Hendrix.
It was expected that around 200,000 people would attend. Overall, estimates put the real figure at one million people who descended onto the festival grounds and its unprepared organisers.
Woodstock took place during a time when hippie culture was at its highest point. The ‘hippie movement’ came about from people who rejected the Vietnam War, opposed traditional values, took illegal drugs, worshiped rock and roll, and dressed in a very individual style. Woodstock was an opportunity for people to escape from the violent realities of their time and rejoice in listening to music and practicing peace and love. Although many parts of the festival failed to impress – such as the lack of toilets, muddy conditions and lack of food, there was one thing that did not: the fashion.
In 1994, Joni Mitchell described Woodstock to Life Magazine as “a spark of beauty”. This description perfectly encompasses the rebellious spirit of the people that attended Woodstock and their choice of clothing (or lack of it). The ‘mother’ of all music festivals was a key inspiration for many festival looks that people proudly flaunt today. Here are some looks that you will definitely see this summer, that we largely have Woodstock to thank for.
Tie-dyed clothing was a hugely recognisable look for young, rebellious people growing up in the sixties, keen to show their rejection of the Vietnam War, and the rules and regulations that had confined their parents’ generation. Woodstock made tie-dye a countercultural icon, as thousands rocked the look in support of their nonconformist ideals.
Legendary artists Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker’s displays of these bright, swirling patterns of colour while performing at Woodstock gave generations of festival goers the seal of approval that tie-dye was cool. Although tie-dye’s popularity has fluctuated over time, there is no doubt that it remains a prevalent choice for today’s festival fashion. Modern festival goers all over the world still choose tiedye as an emblem for their individualism and a symbol of their wild side.
Scandalous Halter Tops and Crop-Tops
The sixties gave birth to the idea of using materials such as crochet and macramé, not to make doilies and placemats, but instead to make halter tops to wear to events like Woodstock. Since then, various materials have been introduced to make and adorn these types of tops including spandex, denim, mesh and sequins.
The introduction of young women wearing their tops like a bikini was very scandalous for the period, and is clearly a huge inspiration for modern halter tops and crop-tops. These are guaranteed to be seen on many modern young women at festivals every summer. Festivals have become places where young women can feel free to put on a crop-top, pair it with some jazzy bell-bottoms or shorts and have fun while embracing a bare midriff for the day.
Free the Nipple
If the conservative members of society in the sixties thought that halter neck tops were a shock to the system, then they were probably flabbergasted that many women chose to go braless at Woodstock. Many even went topless. In fact, it was more common at this festival to see a woman rocking an outfit without a bra than with one. Women were pushing for gender equality and showing their beliefs through their fashion. This attitude has certainly been maintained at modern festivals, as it has become a norm for women to dress how they feel most comfortable, whether that be with a bra, or without one.
Fringe For Days
The free-flowing attitude of the people of Woodstock was most definitely complemented by wearing fringe. It was an iconic style seen everywhere at this festival, in the style of jackets and tops. What could be better than shaking your fringe to the sound of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze? Even if it was while squelching in mud. This was the perfect way to have fun and show off your spunk while doing it. Needless to say, fringe has become the ultimate festivalchic look. It has survived decades of festival style, and made it to the top of festivalgoers’ choice of outfits today in the form of jackets, tops, trousers, shoes and even earrings.
The youth of the sixties were one of the first groups of people to show off the look of faded denim as a fashion statement. At the time, wearing denim was considered very casual attire, and associated with the working class. Youths attending Woodstock therefore used this as an opportunity to wear it in support of social equality and to show their distaste for the boundaries of social norms.
Like every other piece of clothing worn to Woodstock, the textile’s main purpose was to further express one’s freedom and individuality. Modern day festivalgoers are still in love with denim and still revel in the joy of dressing casually that Woodstock enthused. However, denim jeans and jackets have evolved from their reputation in the sixties, and can be dressed up or down. When it comes to festivals, modern attendees can rely on denim for its versatility. A denim jacket will go with almost anything!
In 2019, the business of festival fashion is bigger than ever. Every summer, online retailers prepare months in advance for an influx of sales from those searching for festival-wear buys. Retailers such as ASOS, Boohoo and Missguided have used this type of event
to their advantage, creating a section dedicated to festival fashion on their websites. It is undeniable the influence that Woodstock has had on music festivals today, as well as how it has impacted retailers. The styles and looks seen at Woodstock founded the religion of dressing up for a festival and have been cemented in music and fashion history. Although many modern festivalgoers don’t realise it, when they rock up to their favourite event of the summer in their white crochet crop-top, denim shorts and fringe boots, a legendary weekend that took place decades before they were born is largely responsible for their outfit choice.
What is it about the festival that keeps people coming back? Many would say that when a festival is done the right way, there is an indescribable atmosphere that cannot be replicated elsewhere. It can be a place of community where strangers make friends and where people forget their differences. A place where incredible music is played all day long, and of course, where people display some seriously cool fashion statements from throughout the ages.
You can read more of Elizabeth Greatrex’s work on her website elizabethgreatrex.wixsite.com/mysite, or follow @elizabethgreatrex96 on Instagram for article updates.