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Politics may shape festival fashion

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

With Boston Calling trading the concrete confines of City Hall Plaza for the sprawling fields of the Harvard Athletic Complex, concertgoers may have more freedom to embrace Coachella-branded festival fashion in its fringed, flower child glory.

But as with most fashion trends, is Boston too late to the party? Not quite. Besides, festival style may be at a turning point.

“Coachella fashion was alive and well,” assures Los Angeles-based Amy Dickerson, who just photographed street style at the Indio, Calif., music festival for the New York Times. “It can definitely be a sea of sameness. But this year it was a breath of fresh air compared to other years.”

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Coachella kicks off the US festival music season in early spring and tends to set the trends thanks to its celebrity guests, social media presence, and robust attendance.

“When I told friends I was shooting Coachella again,” Dickerson says, “I knew it was going to be a challenge for me, but it wasn’t the typical features and fringe this time.”

Instead, she noticed attendees dressing in ways that seemed more “meaningful and personal.” “I don’t know if it was conscious,” she adds, “but there’s something political with what’s going on style-wise.”

“Fashion evolves based on what’s happening politically. With any rise of unrest, there’s a reflection in fashion,” says Shawn Grain Carter, associate professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

“What you’re seeing on the retail level is the commercialization of ’70s counter culture [being] called ‘festival fashion.’ That’s what we do in the industry. We take something that’s a trend, and then we commercialize it. But that doesn’t mean a trend isn’t a trend.”

For festival fashion, says MassArt’s fashion chair Sondra Grace, this means a balance of individualism and solidarity.

“You’ll see lots of cut-offs and lace and other [vintage and off-the-rack] pieces that have been manipulated,” she explains.

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“People manipulate their clothing when they want to show they’ve had a say in how they look.”

But Grace suspects group think drives festival dressing, as well.

“When you see everyone walking down the street wearing those pink pussy hats, you want to have the same camaraderie happening there. It happens at festivals too,” she says. “Fashion is a neutralizer, a connector.”

Also, finally, attendees seem to be more aware of the cultural appropriations and insensitivities of festivals past. Dickerson reported far fewer feathers and headdresses at Coachella this year.

Also taking a popularity plunge? Flower crowns.

“The only one I saw was on a 6-year-old,” she notes.

Stylist Kat Typaldos, who frequently works with artists like Borns, Tei Shi, and MGMT, says the festival effect hits the performers as well.

What are the artists wearing? Well, it’s complicated. “From a fashion point of view, now it’s an onslaught of normcore and streetwear and athleisure with a tropigoth and ’90s influence explosion,” she explains. “That’s the new reference.”

Decoded? Casual but stylized, simplistic but not simple — with elements of palm print, ’90s staples, and all-black everything.

Plus, artists want a taste of their sound reflected in their stage style. “It gives context to the music,” she adds, noting Berklee grad Tei Shi as an example. “She’s more vibe-y and electric, so we’re going for a ’90s thing that doesn’t feel nostalgic. Pared down tomboy, with a vampy, sexy vibe.”

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But still, even as the politics and retail offerings change, the trend of “what’s old is new” endures when it comes to festival fashion.

“It’s all been done before — none of this is new,” says Carter. “The only thing that’s new is that [these styles] are being shared on Pinterest and Snapchat now. And to those consumers, these styles are probably already old.”


Rachel Razca can be reached at rachel.raczka@gmail.com