The History of Festival Style Through the Years

Article by: Tessla Venus Goodwin|@GlitterSpies

Fri September 08, 2017 | 12:30 PM

Whether fashion was always an inextricable part of the festival experience or grew to become one isn't clear – but it is obvious that no matter where you are in the world and no matter what the era, festivals inspire people to wear what makes them feel wonderful, beautiful and free.

How? Costumes and fashion allow you to step into a different world, and to express yourself in a different way in which talking or dancing cannot. You can become anyone or anything your heart desires. That is why fashion has become such a large part of festivals now that there are so many different ones across the globe.

These key festivals have had a resounding effect on the festival fashion of today:

Venetian Carnivals

1300s - present, Italy

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Photo by: Paul Legrand

Unlike other festival fashion that has changed over time, Venetian carnival costumes have remained largely the same. Some, like the iconic Pierrot the Clown, are nearly mirror images of popular characters from the 16th and 17th centuries. Most people are seen in 18th century dresses and suits complete with powdered wigs.

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Central to the ensemble is a mask. It's unclear as to exactly when and why masks were first donned in Italy but it's speculated that it had something to do with class rank. In most costumes, not only was the face completely covered but the whole body as well including hands. This meant that one could live in absolute freedom from class and any troubles they might have. Mask-wearing became so popular, it moved beyond the festivals themselves; it had to be restricted in daily life.

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There are up to nine distinct kinds of masks, all with their own meanings and stories to tell. Most of them are still made and worn today. The most iconic mask popularized by the Stanley Kubrick film, Eyes Wide Shut, is called the "Medico della peste." It was originally designed by a doctor who treated plague victims as a way to ward off disease but was incorporated into popular costume garb shortly thereafter.

World’s Fair 

1844 - present, all around the globe

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Photo by: Creative Commons

Originating in Paris but gaining its foothold in London, the World’s Fair exposes the population to exciting new technologies and culture from different countries around the world. In a world before internet and commercial airline flights, the World’s Fair often served as the only time people would be able to see things from another country in their lifetime.

It was important for people of all classes and backgrounds to come see what was on view, so naturally, people wore their best attire. Men wore full suits complete with top hats, waistcoats, pocket watches and canes. The women sported bouffant hairstyles with extravagant hats, long-sleeve blouses over corsets and tightly nipped long skirts often with bustles. During the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, there was an influential exhibit on Russian furs.

While the traditional World’s Fair still goes on, those wishing to show off their costumes and fashion attend the Steampunk World’s Fair which has been held in New Jersey since 2010.

The post-apocalyptic retro-future Victorian look, reminiscent of but more futuristic than many classic World's Fair looks, can be achieved by combining classical victorian fashions with industrial elements such as a metal arm, while still maintaining a vintage feel. Goggles are also an essential element to the look.

Monterey International Pop Festival

1967, Monterey, California


While the fashion of Woodstock is always cited as the ultimate hippie style, the Monterey Pop Fest two years earlier had some incredibly fashionable attendees and a bit more polished style. 1967 was, after all, a great year for fashion. The mod tendencies and tailoring of the early 60s were still around but the psychedelic trends of the era were already making a splash.

Although the Rolling Stones didn’t play, Brian Jones wore one of the most incredible outfits ever seen at a festival at the time. A high collared yellow lace shirt with a chandelier choker serving as the base, he layered on a metallic gold coat with pink fur trim and a floral scarf. The men were peacocks, piling on colors, prints and textures much more than the women.

Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas looked incredible as well. Slick’s halter top/kimono combination and Phillips' floral metallic top and statement necklace are certainly looks that have been seen copied at modern fests.



The 60s mod and hippie style of both this festival and Woodstock serve as the inspiration for most modern festival fashion. Floral crowns, fringe, kaftans, velvet, mixing prints, bell bottoms, and psychedelic scarves are just a few of the things that can be traced back to this era.

Rock in Rio

1985, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Hosting over 1 million people over 10 days and a killer lineup including Queen, Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden and AC/DC, Rock in Rio instantly became the largest rock n' roll festival in the world.

From metal to punk to glam rock, ensembles consisted of mostly black on black with textured accents such as studs or fishnets. Men wore eyeliner, leather jackets and pants. Long hair was essential for headbanging. Steel-toed Dr. Martens and motorcycle boots were perfect for men or women. DIY accents were also widespread and an easy way to add individual flare to clothes; safety pins, buttons, and patches on denim vests or leather jacket are still scene at all rock festivals like Rock Am Ring and Roskilde.

This is another example of how the fashion of this festival and the subculture behind it has remained nearly the same over the years. Go to any metal or punk fest today and expect to see these same looks. But, as hardcore as spiked leather jackets can look on their own, it’s really all about the attitude behind the clothes.

Electric Daisy Carnival

1997 - present, Southern California

Since raves began in late-80s England (watch a full documentary here), fashion has been an integral part of their subculture. From Dr. Martens and platforms; and overalls to light-up bras; and furry boot covers, the styles have changed but the feeling of freedom and belonging certainly has not.

During the Acid house craze, people wore as many rainbow colors as possible; they often created outfits with mismatching socks, giant smiley face t-shirts and tie dye bucket hats. Here in the U.S., participants still make Kandi, homemade bracelets and necklaces, to swap with other ravers, reciting the message, P.L.U.R. (Peace, Love, Unity, Respect).

The 90s rave uniform consisted of UFO pants, a t-shirt or crop top, tennis shoes, mini backpacks and visors. You can see a lot of people wearing Nike, Adidas and other sports brands. People are seen with pacifiers in their mouths, a way to combat the jaw clenching and grinding associated with taking ecstasy. There is also often an incorporation of cartoon characters which conveys the childlike wonder raves encourage. Furry and light-up elements were added into the mix in the early 2000s.

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Rave fashion has completely blown up in the last few years, thanks in part to the massive success of festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival, which now has multiple iterations across the globe. To supplement the riding demand for new, whimsical rave looks, there are numerous websites such as I Heart Raves and Little Black Diamond that boast the latest looks.

Coachella Music & Arts Festival

1999 - present, Indio, CA


When Coachella started in 1999, it's doubtful that its creator could have foreseen the global fashion event it has become. From capsule collections with Forever 21 and H&M, to big name-beauty sponsors like Sephora to super-exclusive Nylon magazine parties, fashion is as big as a part of Coachella as the music is today. There is even a so-called Coachella uniform (flower crown, crop top, denim cut-offs) that true fashionistas avoid like the plague. 

Back in 1999, however, it really was all about the music. Not that fashion was amiss – it just wasn’t a focus. We do however, see that Beck was completely ahead of his time in his fashion choice that year. The images of Beck floating around the stage in a long-sleeved red top with cascading fringe and a pair of blue and red studded jeans looks as if it could have been taken last year.

Today, the #Coachellastyle has over 25,000 posts on Instagram and numerous accounts dedicated to aggregating the best outfits. International supermodels and celebrities are snapped for every fashion magazine and blog in the world.



2005- 2015, Brooklyn, New York


Street-style Saturdays with Shabaka from The House of Aama. #pursuitofportraits #afropunk2015 #afropunkfest #makeportraits

A photo posted by Pursuit of Portraits (NYC) (@pursuitofportraits) on

The latest festival making waves with for its insanely fashionable attendees is AFROPUNK Festival. Although the fest has been going since 2005, this is the first time we have seen such extensive fashion coverage of the event. The street style at this fest was even declared the best by Elle magazine. With a perfect blend of afro-centric, vintage, and punk pieces, it was clear that the festival's men and women attendees are natural stylephiles.

Photo by Richard Martin (@infiniteghostmachine) #afropunkfest15

A photo posted by AFROPUNK (@afropunk) on

From one woman sporting a large purple afro to women in braids of electric blue and pale pink, the hairstyles were completely next level and utterly chic, an effect that can be hard to achieve with colored hair. Other adornments like fabulous turbans and strategically placed, simple face paint added an element of maturity.

A bevvy of jumpsuits, bell bottoms, printed skirts, and eclectic jewelry created a wonderfully full display of different outfits. Vogue captured a few festival-goers looking perfectly polished in combinations of red, white and blue.

Photo by Brianna Roye #afropunkfest15

A photo posted by AFROPUNK (@afropunk) on

But what really makes these fashions stand out from all the rest? It is assuredly the people wearing the clothing. Their sense of self-confidence and comfort in their own skin and ethnic roots emanates from images of AFROPUNK. This is where you see the shift from merely fashion to true style – something every festie can and should learn from.