The Glow Up Goes to NOLA: How Do You Dress for Essence Fest?

Models attend 2018 Essence Street Style Festival on September 9, 2018 in Brooklyn City.
Photo: Dave Kotinsky (Getty Images for Essence)

I’ve traveled the world and been to multiple parts of the Caribbean and Africa, but I don’t think I’ve never been on a plane as black as the one I boarded to attend Essence Fest.

For our Big Beauty Tuesday regulars who were looking for their weekly installment this week, I have my best excuse yet: I’ve been deep in preparation for the 25th annual Essence Festival, taking place from July 5-8 in New Orleans—which has involved a seemingly endless stream of emails, RSVPs, team meetings, and, of course, packing for the biggest annual gathering of black womanhood in existence. As uninitiated attendees of this annual celebration, The Glow Up will be reporting back daily, via our Essence Fest diary, so think of this as a Big Beauty Thursday, Friday, Saturday...you get the point.

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In short, it’s shaping up to be one hell of an overbooked, beauty, fashion and black girl magic-filled holiday weekend, and as I watched the boarding of my fully-booked flight to New Orleans on Wednesday afternoon, I was already astounded by the sheer black beauty of it all. From First Class well into Coach (where I wrote much of this pinned into my 17th-row window seat), we outchea, y’all.

All around me, I heard the buzz of conversations between newly-acquainted black women (I, by contrast, was seated next to an Isaac Hayes lookalike deep in a manspreading slumber). My favorite exchange happened right across the aisle, as a faithful Essence Fest vet in a sequined bomber and a festival virgin wearing a “Don’t Worry, Be Yoncé” tee excitedly discussed the many merits the weekend has to offer—over the unfortunate but fortunately bemused white man in the middle seat (who no doubt scrambled to buy a last-minute ticket the moment we landed).

The temperature when we arrived? Ninety-nine degrees, according to our pilot.

Baggage claim was even blacker than the plane, as attendees from all over the States (and possibly beyond) converged on the lower level of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport—and yes, I said baggage claim, since these Essence Fest guests clearly intend to be dressed to impress. My meager, but jam-packed carry-on had an inferiority complex watching folks unload entire three-piece sets of luggage for a five-day holiday weekend, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I should’ve packed more...

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Focus, Maiysha; you’re here to work.

But how does one pack for Essence Fest? Very lightly, in my estimation—and no, I’m not talking about the number of clothes I brought, which could easily last me well into July without a wash (I somehow managed to even squeeze six pairs of shoes into my carry-on). No, I’m talking about that 99 degrees—and the fact that this incredible event literally takes in an area well-known for its swamps—my desire is not to become one this weekend.

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Not sure if that can be entirely avoided, but at the risk of an overshare, underneath my array of gauzy dresses, caftans and separates, a trip to NOLA in July seemed a prime time to try out a product or two from plant-based feminine care brand the Honey Pot. This “by people with vaginas, for people with vaginas” brand, founded by Beatrice Feliu-Espada, promises to clean, balance and protect our most intimate area. Since I’m of the belief that no matter how well-groomed, cleansed and cared for the situation, a little extra love is always welcome in our nexus of black girl magic (make of that what you will), and I figured a trip to the swamplands was an ideal opportunity to safeguard against, well, swampiness.

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The Honey Pot is just one of many, many, many brands that will be at the 25th annual Essence Fest this week, several of which we’ve featured here before, and even more we’ve yet to discover—and as The Glow Up’s primary ambassador, I’ll be your guide, as will several of my homies here at The Root (I told y’all: We outchea—and some Girls Trip-level shenanigans may ensue). Should you consider TGU’s daily diary your own virtual swamp tour? For my sake, I certainly hope not, but despite the limited size of my carry-on, I did leave ample room to shop in the biggest, best-curated, black-owned marketplace in perhaps the world...and, of course, I also left room for possibility.

If I’m honest, I’m already overwhelmed by the possibilities Essence Fest offers. It kicks off today, July 4th with Essence in the Park, which will include a second line and concerts from Big Freedia, Common and the city’s fireworks display. Is even a five-day weekend enough time to take it all in? Perhaps not; as I overheard the festival vet on my flight admit to the newbie, it takes a few years to get the lay of the ever-increasing landscape of Essence Fest. Based on the sheer amount of events I’m already negotiating how to juggle, I can only imagine...

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“But,” she quickly added, “the first time is the best time.”

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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.