South by Southwest—Austin, Texas’ annual interactive, film and music conference—is scheduled to officially kick off Friday, March 9, and serves as the unofficial commencement of festival season. Just a month later, Coachella, considered the model for all subsequent music festivals, will happen in California.
Now in its 19th year, Coachella has become more renowned for the fashion choices of attendees than the actual musical lineup itself—although Queen Bey’s appearance this year is going to be one for the books.
As a music journalist—and one who’s been at it for over a decade—I’ve had the privilege of covering a slew of events. Although I’m still a Coachella virgin, the list of festivals under my belt could be considered quite impressive. From SXSW to Pitchfork to the Governors Ball to Afropunk, live reportage is just my thing. Not only are they a great way to discover music that otherwise might not have been on your radar, but many have expanded to include one-of-a-kind vendors, art exhibits and even carnival rides. Festivals are becoming more and more common—and more and more crowded—each year. Preparing for them can be a bit of a challenge, particularly when you’re choosing what to wear.
Temperatures are surprisingly frigid or unusually sweltering, navigating festival grounds for hours on end can do a number on your feet, and outfits that are amazing in theory just aren’t practical over the course of three consecutive days (or more). Despite your social media timelines being flooded with young women in flower crowns and halter tops, that one-size-fits-all aesthetic simply isn’t for everyone. So before you map out your festival calendar, here’s a list of wardrobe necessities guaranteed to keep you cute and comfortable as you jam all spring and summer long.
1. Functional Footwear
Although this may seem like a no-brainer, painful shoes can pretty much ruin your festival experience. Although my trusted pair of Converse sneakers have been my shoe of choice for the last few years at outdoor music events (long after I’ve broken them in), it is vital to select footwear that can withstand various weather conditions—especially rain. If you’re still set on wearing your tallest gladiator sandals or suede fringe boots, go ahead. Just be sure to pack an extra pair of shoes for when reality sets in.
2. Backpack or Tote Bag
Speaking of stashing away footwear, more and more festivals are prohibiting large bags or making them terribly inconvenient to check through security lines. The solution? Selecting a classic medium-sized tote bag as your luggage of choice during your live-music excursion. Mini backpacks have also made a comeback and are available in a selection of styles (I personally have an affinity for studded ones). This way you can fit your essentials (wallet, keys, makeup, bottled water) all in one place, without any worry.
3. Denim Jacket
Denim jackets—cropped, distressed, oversized or classic—are a wardrobe staple that is always trendy, regardless of the occasion. They work well for festivals because they are the perfect garment for layering looks: Simply tie the jacket around your waist when afternoon temperatures are at their height, then wear it when the weather becomes a little chillier as the evening approaches. And no need to stick to basic blue; a red or lavender acid-washed denim will turn heads even faster.
4. Fishnet Stockings
Grunge fashion is making its way back, festival first. And believe it or not, like denim jackets, fishnet stockings are also versatile when it comes to festival attire. They can easily be worn under ripped denim to instantly add edge to an otherwise modest look. For a little flair, fishnets can also be worn on their own with a pair of denim shorts or a minidress. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, swap out fishnet stockings for thigh-high ones to instantly reach an even higher level of sex appeal.
5. A Statement Piece
Although statement pieces are most readily associated with jewelry, when it comes to dressing for a festival, all bets are off. A statement piece could be anything mentioned on this list, or something completely different and uniquely you. For instance, at last year’s Afropunk, my statement piece was a red sequined bra, worn as a top. At Panorama, I rocked a denim tutu, and for Boston Calling, I dusted off my beloved cassette necklace, made by a dear friend. Just be sure to select a statement piece that is eye-catching, sized correctly and, as you may have guessed—made to withstand crazy festival conditions.
With these staples in your festival arsenal, you’ll be sure not only to stand out in a crowd but also to be comfortable while doing it. These pieces don’t even have to be expensive; retailers like T.J. Maxx, Amazon.com and Target are the perfect places to start your search. But no matter what you wear, remember that festivals aren’t just about your outfits; they’re also about finding new artists, falling back in love with old favorites and having a fabulous time.