At some point in the last decade, “festival fashion” became code for “what to wear to Coachella.” Yes, there are other festivals every summer, but let’s be honest, the Palm Springs-adjacent music event of the season is synonymous with over-the-top fashion, influencer parties, and celebrity sightings. What began as an indie music concert in 1999 quickly devolved into a multi-weekend extravaganza that’s more about getting a good pic for the ‘gram in front of a Ferris wheel than checking out new artists. In fact, widespread interest in Coachella seemed to begin in the early 2010s—right as social media took off. Coincidence? Probably not.
Of course, there are still music lovers and genuine fans amidst the Coachella crowd, but Instagram feeds everywhere tell a different story. With each passing year, the attendees, see-and-be-seen vibe, and outfits got progressively more decadent. Not to mention, “festival style” (a.k.a. Coachella style) has a long history of cultural appropriation and problematic fashion tropes. By 2019 (the last Coachella before the pandemic began), the festival had reached peak opulence, becoming a swirling, capitalist kaleidoscope of #Revolve influencers and bottled water brand-sponsored activations.
The past few years of Coachella-free life lived (mostly) indoors and away from big crowds has brought some much-needed perspective to the frantic FOMO many of us experienced every spring before the festival’s two-year hiatus. For the first time, it feels like everyone’s in on the joke in 2022. TikTok videos tagged #coachella this year were equal parts self-aware and spectacle. Even the social media platform du jour (TikTok) is more about voice and perspective than image (à la Instagram). I saw just as many send-ups of the pressure-cooker that is festival fashion culture as ‘fit checks on social media.
Even celebrities seemed more subdued than in previous years. Hailey Bieber and Kylie Jenner, notably, showed up in… tank tops and baggy jeans? Not exactly groundbreaking by weekend brunch standards, but a notable shift from the lace corsets, crochet, and cutouts rocked in the past. We also got a cute cottagecore moment from Sydney Sweeney (which felt more Silverlake Flea than trendy concert-goer), some cool ’90s grunge from Doja Cat, a retro Pucci-inspired pants set from Storm Reed, and a surprisingly long jean skirt and ruffled blouse that would make early Dolly Parton proud thanks to Coachella mainstay Elsa Hosk.
To be honest, I’m not mad about it. In a world where sustainability, inflation, and the ever-collapsing trend cycle are top of mind, it was fresh and exciting to see festival outfits that looked like they had been thrown together from what was already hanging in closets. Maybe I’m giving celebs too much credit, but even the illusion of re-wearing, upcycling, and conscious consumerism felt like a nice change of pace as compared to the pre-pandemic festival scene.
Plus, the performers brought enough sparkle, statement, and sequins (Harry Styles and Shania!) to satisfy anyone expecting sartorial drama from their festival experience. There was still plenty to look at, but famous concert-goers wore outfits that were subtle, low-key—and dare I say, wearable—this year. So, is festival fashion over? Again, probably not. But, a Coachella vibe shift is long overdue. Expect less problematic accessories and more vintage, baggy pants, and tiny tops in the future. And if you’re craving the crochet sets and Doc Martins of years past, look no further than the patron saint of Coachella, Vanessa Hudgens. She always delivers.