By Isa Giallorenzo
As the music festival summer season goes into full swing, we spoke with four fashion specialists to help you with one of the most challenging wardrobe conundrums of all: the music festival outfit.
Brandon Frein, wardrobe stylist and professor of Fashion at Columbia College
When it comes to dressing for festivals—or any outside summer activity, for that matter—two things are key: comfort and functionality. Music festivals are typically hot and crowded, so the main thing I keep in mind is staying cool. A dress is usually my go-to, something loose that doesn’t hug my body and something in a lightweight and breathable fabric. I want as little on my body as I can get away with! If not a dress, I will opt for either a jumpsuit or a light and flowing maxi-skirt paired with a crop top, bikini top (well, maybe not at my age, but I used to), or tank.
Shoes and accessories are important things to keep in mind, too. My bag of choice for any kind of street or music fest has always been a good stylish fanny pack—and they are totally in right now! A fanny pack is secure and also attached to your body, so you won’t lose it when you’ve had one too many beers. As for shoes, while a pair of Birkenstocks or cute flat sandals may seem like a good idea, you’ll think better of that decision when you stumble over gravel, end up in mud, or when someone steps—or jumps!—on your toes. My shoe of choice is typically a good, sturdy ankle boot of some sort. Sturdy, stable, and comfy. Hot maybe, but whatever you put on your feet, they’re gonna get nasty!
Headwear is another thing to consider. Hats are great, but they can become burdensome when you are out and about all day in a crowded place. Hats may fly off your head (I really like a good straw one with a neck tie), and they become a giant pain in the ass if you feel the need to take them off. What are you gonna do with it? I prefer the idea of a head scarf—a bandana is awesome. Use it as headwear, wipe yourself down with it when the sweat starts to roll, and stuff it on your bag or tie it around your wrist or bag when you’re tired of it. Easy! Oh, and remember to bring SPF wipes, so practical!
Justin Moran, lead fashion editor of Bullett magazine
Festival fashion is super-tricky. It’s become parodied so much at this point that it’s essential you avoid any cliche that could potentially land you on a BuzzFeed roundup. You’re facing several battles when attending a festival: summer heat, comfortability (you’ll be standing for eight-plus hours) and the most important obstacle, looking like no one else attending. As much as I love fashion, at the end of the day, you’ve purchased a ticket to be with your friends and see some good live sets. Therefore, looking like you’ve spent hours preparing your music festival outfit is almost laughable. Finding a balance between personal, progressive style and wearing what’s realistic for spending an entire day under the Chicago sun is key. You don’t want to be the girl who looks blatantly uncomfortable wearing an exact re-creation of something she saw in a Coachella street style article somewhere. You want to look like you and you want to look effortless, or else it’ll read as a total reach.
For me, sunglasses are the most important part. You can really tell a lot about someone’s personal style by the shades they’re wearing. I never want to look like I’m chasing trends, which is something I often see at festivals.
Mary Eleanor Wallace, owner of Tusk boutique (3205 West Armitage)
For festivals, comfort and simplicity is key. If it’s going to be hot and possibly rain while you are outside all day, wearing a light fabric that will breathe well, but also dry quickly, is helpful. At Pitchfork, I wore an oversized white long-sleeved button-down shirt/tunic. Wearing all white in the heat turned out to be helpful. Going with something classic and simple like that also makes it easy to feature one accessory, such as a wide cuff bracelet, statement sunglasses, or a wide brimmed hat.
Noah Zagor, co-owner of Meyvn menswear boutique (2627 North Kedzie)
The perfect festival outfit is all about functionality. You need to stay cool or warm depending on the weather, you need to keep from getting sunburned, you need to carry things, and you need to be comfortable the whole time. Pretty basic idea. Just because you need to be practical though doesn’t mean you can’t look decent at the same time.
So, let’s start from the ground up. A lot of people think flip-flops or Birkenstocks are the move at festivals, but I’d rather go with a lightweight pair of running shoes. There’s more support and depending on what the ground situation is, your feet won’t get as filthy. Maybe you’ve got an older pair of Nike Flyknits or Adidas Boosts that you can wear sock-less and that you don’t mind getting a little beat up. The mesh construction will breathe and keep your feet cool and you’ll be a lot better off running around the festival in them.
Moving up the body, I would wear a loose-fitting pair of shorts. I really like shorts in tech fabrics that have zip pockets to keep your stuff secure. I probably wouldn’t carry a full wallet to a festival—just an ID, an ATM/credit card, and some cash. I’d also strip my keychain down to the essentials. That way you can keep everything you need in your pockets and not carry a bag making your back all sweaty.
When I’m at festivals, I always wear a vintage basketball jersey from when I played in high school. It’s perfectly beat up and the mesh fabric breathes really well. You could also wear a normal tank-top or pick up a mesh practice basketball jersey from a local sporting goods store on the cheap.
On top of that, I would take a medium-weight long-sleeve cotton shirt. Maybe your favorite beat up western-style shirt. Something that will look better with more damage. I like long sleeves at festivals because I can tie it around my waist during the day when it’s hot and then when the sun sets, it makes a great outer layer. You could also go with a super-lightweight madras shirt so that you can keep it on even when it’s hot to keep the sun off of you.
Lastly, you need accessories. You don’t need any clunky heavy jewelry or statement pieces, but I have two things I always take with me: a bandana and a hat. The bandana is the perfect utility piece. One year, I was at a festival and it was so hot and dry. I kept dipping the bandana in cold water and tying it around my neck. It really helped keep me cool. When the dust picked up, I could tie it over my face to filter the air. It was the best thing I had with me. I also always take a hat. The new linen bucket hats at Meyvn would be perfect. They are light and breathable and they keep the sun off of your face and neck.
Ben Schulman is the editor of the design section of Newcity and co-host of “A Lot You Got to Holler,” the Newcity podcast on design, architecture and urbanism. His work with Newcity is one of many ventures he engages in to communicate the value of design and cities. Ben serves as the communications director for Small Change, a real estate crowdfunding platform that works to catalyze the development of transformative real estate projects. Previously, he was the communications director for the Chicago chapter of The American Institute of Architects, editor of Chicago Architect magazine and communications director for the urban think-tank, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). His writing has appeared and been noted in outlets such as ARCHITECT Magazine, Belt Magazine, ICON, New Geography, Streetsblog, The National Review, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pop City Media and as a contributor to The Urbanophile, among others. When not writing about cities, Ben serves as an editorial assistant for the journal New Media + Society, and helps head the Contraphonic Sound Series, an attempt to document cities through sound.
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