It’s easy to get a bad impression of Coachella fashion, especially after the media deluge of stories about how to dress for music festivals, followed by the stories on how music-festival fashion has gone too far. Style cliches abound on Instagram and then are beaten into the ground by style writers: the culturally inappropriate Native American headdresses and faux-boho flower crowns of previous years; 2016’s bandanas, braids and black-ribbon chokers; perennials like fringe, face paint, crop tops and cheek-bearing denim cutoffs.
From all the press, I expected to be appalled when I got there, but after I looked around for a while, a few words that MrB has said to me many times sprang into my mind.
MrB says that to me when I’m berating myself for sleeping till noon after an insomniac night, instead of springing up to do all the great things I should be doing when I’m traveling. Believe it or not, I’m the one all full of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” while MrB is ready to go with the flow.
So, while I laughed a little to myself when I first saw stereotypical Coachella fashion in the flesh — frequently exposing a lot of flesh — it hit me pretty quickly that everyone was on vacation. And I love costume and theme dressing — including concert outfits — so if there’s a Coachella look, why shouldn’t people have fun with it? It’s a way to take a break from regular life.
That said, I wasn’t going to any big-fashion-brand parties or taking it easy in VIP sections, so I left my beloved gladiator sandals and strangely awesome, ground-skimming shorts/skirt combo at home. I dressed to stand up to nine hours to see Guns N’ Roses from as close to the front row as I could get. My Coachella outfits were a version of my usual “I’m going to be standing all day and I’m going to stop caring how I look” general-admission concert look. Because I was all-business about it, I only took one full-length outfit photo, on the last day.
What Wendy Wore
Hat: Philip Treacy (2011? After I got this one, for sure.)
Sunglasses: Opening Ceremony (2014)
Bandanna: Guns N’ Roses merch, from Coachella 2016
T-shirt: Coachella 2016
Bra with studded straps:From the NYC store Religious Sex, sometime in the 1990s
Denim jacket tied at waist: Vintage Kikit (bought from eBay in 2015)
Shorts: Current/Elliott (2014)
Boots: Fiorentini + Baker (Bought secondhand in Paris, 2013)
This was perfect for a day with a high of 92°F and a low of 53°F. In case you’re going to have a long concert day at a festival or anywhere else, I’ll walk you through what I wore and what you might need yourself.
Of course, a hat for sun protection is a must, and while wide-brim hats are stylish, a baseball cap won’t block the view of everyone behind you. Just because you’re a music fan doesn’t mean you have to be a rude asshole like the dude who was in the front row at GNR. You can see his straw cowboy hat coming into my view in this video.
Before the band came on and after the sun went down, I tapped him on his shoulder and said, with a big smile, “Your hat is gorgeous, but would you mind taking it off so the rest of us can see?” Dude was fucking hangry, because he shrieked, “I’ve been waiting here since 7 in the morning!” I asked, “What does that have to do with your hat now?” He said, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, HOLD IT?!” Well, yes! But it stayed on his head and everyone stayed hating him. SMH.
Big sunglasses are also good for sun protection. I brought a pair that I like a lot, but that wouldn’t bring me to tears if they got lost or broken. I got the bandanna when we first got to the festival, though another day I wore a scarf I brought from home. It was very windy the first day and dust and pollen were everywhere. The parking lots and walk from the lots to the festival were the worst for dust, so it was good to have something to cover my nose and mouth.
I wore the Coachella t-shirt on Sunday after the black tank top I planned to wear had a messy encounter with my SPF 75 sunblock. Under sleeveless tops, I like to wear the Sweetees studded bra I got in the ’90s (I swear!) at an awesome, now-closed store on St. Marks Place that was called Religious Sex. It’s more comfortable than a strapless bra for a long day, and if a bra is going to be exposed, I like it to be something that’s meant to be exposed.
Shorts are obvious for such a hot day. (A long skirt would be comfortable too, but then you have to worry about someone stepping on the hem.) Even when I was 20 years younger — no! 30 years younger! — I didn’t wear cutoffs that showed cheeks, but I kind of enjoyed that other people were doing it. Yes, I saw more ass in a day than a proctologist sees in a month, but it was a joy to see men and women with all body types strutting their non-Photoshopped, non-filtered stuff. There was no body-shaming. Everyone was out there living his or her best life! It was like a special world where bullying classmates, judgmental relatives and Internet trolls didn’t exist to bring everyone down.
I got the denim jacket last year when I was reminiscing about my 1990s fondness for the washed-silk pieces made by the brand Kikit. I hit eBay looking for some old-school silk, but only found the studded denim jacket. I “bought it now” for $20. A jacket was a must for the night. It gets cold quickly in the desert after the sun goes down. And it was fabulous that I could tie it on and didn’t have to carry it during the heat of the day.
When I’m going to be standing for a long time with zero personal space, I go for a comfortable shoe with a closed toe. Sandals are asking for trouble. I already have a damaged toenail from MrB stepping on my foot many years ago (when I was wearing a shoe!),and I would like the other nine to stay in good shape. Also, the Coachella dust and the porta-potty situation? I don’t want my feet exposed to that, unlike the young ladies I saw stroll out of the toilet area with bare feet, a la Britney Spears. I wore the boots Friday and Sunday. On Saturday, I wore my most reliable, non-blister-causing concert shoes: the Prada sneakers I thought were ruined at Lollapalooza in 2011. After being soaked through by the rain during that festival, they dried out nicely and I’ve been wearing them ever since!
I wore my hair in two little braids. They weren’t the stylish braids I saw on a lot of other women, but they’re the only style I can manage by myself that keeps my hair under control while outdoors or swimming. After standing by a headbanging gal with long, loose hair during Guns N’ Roses, I wanted to pass a law requiring hair to be contained in some way in close quarters. Her hair kept touching my face! I had the cowboy hat in front of me and the hair-flinger to the right of me. I’m glad Axl Rose made that performance worth the tiny aggravations … which actually don’t seem that tiny after hours of standing in one place.
You can see the braids here, as well as my 1980s vintage Canal Jean t-shirt, which I wore on the first day. I had on the same shorts and boots that are in the full-length photo.
My gorgeous sister gave me that t-shirt late last year. She was about to get rid of it and I couldn’t let it go, because we were obsessed with Canal Jeans (as we called it) back in the day. It wasn’t fancy like Fiorucci, but it was a must for the pistol belts we wore over our oversize t-shirts. The Canal Jean t-shirt wasn’t as huge as some of the ones we used to wear, but the sleeves were big and floppy enough to make me cut them off.
The cheap fabric crossbody bag I brought back from Costa Rica last year didn’t make it into the outfit photo. It would have been more Coachella-y if I carried the fringed leather Prada bag that I usually wear to concerts, but the Costa Rica souvenir was bigger and lighter. Leather is so heavy, plus do you really want to be stuffing your water bottles and sunscreen into a nice bag? Get yourself something big and lightweight. If it’s really ugly, like my bag was, you’ll get over that after you’ve stood for hours in the sun, dodging a straw cowboy hat and being tickled by someone’s hair. There’s a point where you don’t care about anything anymore!
There you have it: What to wear to a music festival if you need to be practical. If you’re more about soaking up the atmosphere and don’t need to be practical, go ahead and rock out with your cheeks out … and don’t forget your blue wig!