A new report by Edited paints a less glittery future for festival fashion, the millennial-born genre that had ballooned to encompass everything from boho chic and Western to rave style in pre-pandemic years. This year, the brands and retailers that normally cater to this consumer felt the effect the pandemic pause had on festival-going and the shopping rituals that traditionally proceed them.
Despite Coachella’s headlining superstars Harry Styles and Billie Eilish having their own distinct and influential aesthetics, the retail analytics firm reported that U.S. Google searches for “festival fashion” ahead of the two-weekend event failed to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“Festival edits” and items that were festival must-haves in 2019 are not resonating with Gen Z. To coincide with the final weekend of Coachella, Edited reported that Fashion Nova offered up to 75 percent off everything in its Western-themed edit and Lee’s festival edit ran in conjunction with a BOGO 50 percent offer. The firm’s data also showed that tried-and-true festival fashion items like crochet and fringed apparel were discounted as soon as Coachella kicked off, indicating retailers needed to entice customers with sales to move stock.
While Coachella materialized as a “melting pot” of Y2K and Western trends, Edited said there was a notable shift to “understated” looks like cropped tank tops and low-rise cargo pants. Cowboy boots, cutouts, mesh and vacation shirts were prevalent, as well as denim shorts.
“Denim’s post-lockdown resurgence lent itself to the shorts category,” Edited stated. New arrivals of denim shorts in men’s wear grew 114 percent year-over-year, while women’s wear was up 93 percent year-over-year.
Other items that call for “less investment” for future ranges are tie-dye, floral hair accessories and belt bags, which Edited said experienced deeper discounts than in 2021 when Coachella was canceled.
The future of brand activations that pander to influencers and celebrities is also in question. The fifth incarnation of Revolve Festival attracted a host of high-profile guests, including Kendall Jenner, Hailey Bieber, Post Malone and Timothée Chalamet, but it was not without logistical problems. Influencers with hundreds of thousands to millions of followers described waiting hours for a bus to take them to the festival. During that time, they said they witnessed multiple individuals pass out, fights break out and “chaos.”
It may be wiser for brands to invest their marketing dollars in activations that are accessible to all festivalgoers. “Influencer culture is being challenged, with customers craving real-life experiences without the lens of social media,” Edited said.
The disposable nature of festival fashion, in general, is contrary to the post-covid consumer mindset.
According to recent ThredUp data, 42 percent of 2022 festivalgoers planned to buy a new festival outfit, translating to 26.9 million new outfits, each with their own environmental footprint. Additionally, 40 percent of Gen Z respondents said they were unlikely to re-wear said outfits.
The resale platform amplified conscious consumption during festival season by tapping celebrity stylist Karla Welch to curate thrifted head-to-toe outfits sourced from the preowned platform as well as individual pieces pulled from her own styling closet. As a lover of music festivals who’s “passionate about promoting sustainability,” Welch decided to contribute to changing the conversation around festival fashion by making more than 30 items from her styling closet available for sale.
Festival organizers are aware of the overconsumption habits tied to their shows, and some are promoting their own initiatives as well. Coachella’s website had a section dedicated to sustainability outlining recycling and waste programs and encouraging attendees to carpool to the festival and reuse the clothes they already have in their closets. In previous years, London-based festival Wide Awake organized a Climate Cafe, where attendees could take advantage of “grassroots activism speed dating” and a plastic-free party hosted by a local nightclub.
“Consumers will look to prioritize comfort, authenticity and sustainability instead of buying an outfit purely to be photographed for socials and then never worn again,” Edited said about the future of festival fashion. “To cater to this shift, retailers should back products that appeal to broader aesthetics instead of specific festival fits. Think styles that can sit within sexy dressing, the ’70s, or Y2K merchandise stories to avoid taking steep reductions after the event and preserve margins. Customization is a big opportunity in this space to let consumers express themselves and stand out.”