From Flower Power to Leeds Festival ... the evolution of UK music festival fashion

Festival fashion means mixing up music-led trends from the Sixties onwards. Stephanie Smith charts its continuing style influence.

Leeds Festival in 2010, left, and in the 1980s, right. Picture created for River Island festival style research

Fashion and music have always danced hand in hand, so it’s no surprise that festival style has become a perennial trend in much the same way as nautical and cruisewear.

Fashion brands (and fashion journalists) like a peg to hang new collections and stories on, and festival fashion eloquently sums up what spring and summer mean – long carefree days and even longer balmy nights of music, alfresco drinking, dining and gathering to relax and have fun with friends. The festival scene has grown massively, as research by River Island highlights in a new report it has put together chronicling the evolution of the UK’s weekend outdoor music events.

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Festivals as we know them began in the Sixties with flower power hippies, and the warring Rockers and Mods, opening the door to fashion as an expression of politics. The Isle of Wight Festival in 1969 featured a star-studded rock and folk line-up including The Who and Bob Dylan, allowing Brits to let their inhibitions go in a weekend of music and dancing.

Silver skirt, £36; silver bra top, £32; sunglasses, £14; all other items from a selection in store now at Topshop.

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The first Glastonbury Festival took place in 1970, a fairly small affair. As the Seventies progressed, it became the turn of Glam and Punk to rock their music and their look. David Bowie emerged to inspire a fashion revolution that celebrated androgyny and flamboyant clothing. The UK Punk movement brought in the provocative clothing of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood 
and gave a voice to the disenfranchised youth of Britain.

The Eighties embraced the weird and wonderful as theatrical looks and a new take on period fashion took centre stage with New Romantic style pushing boundaries and challenging gender norms. Rave culture inspired a look that would become widespread throughout the following decade, with its baggy, colourful, visually stimulating clothes, counterbalanced by a darker Goth wardrobe evolving from the older punk aesthetic. Meanwhile, Rockers were still going strong, with their genre becoming more diverse through alternative rock and post punk.

Weekend-long festivals were by now a staple of British summertime and new ones including the Leeds/Reading Festival emerged to ride the popularity of rock music across the decade, a focus they have (mostly) stuck to ever since, playing now for around 105,000 attendees, compared with around 30,000 in the early days. This year’s festival runs August 23-25 and features Foo Fighters, The 1975 and Bastille, by the way.

Sunglasses, £2, crochet mini dress (or top), £18. From a selection at Primark.

The Nineties saw Britpop fever sweep through the UK with a new “lad culture” fashion combining football, casual and Mod influences to create a style all of its own. The decade also welcomed Hip-Hop and oversized sports jerseys, bomber jackets and branded tracksuits become mainstream. Pioneers of Grunge Nirvana and Soundgarden also became trendsetters and baggy sweaters, flannel shirts and torn jeans made their way from music videos to the high street. The 1990s saw a new wave of UK events springing up, notably T in the Park and V Festival, drawing even more diverse crowds.

The new millennium brought with it Hipster, Grime and Emo cultures and festival fashion edged towards a more glam look, epitomised by Kate Moss at Glastonbury in mini dresses and leathers.

But as the 2010s came around, people became less interested in being defined by any one group and began to express themselves in their own individual way. So now festival goers look to iconic styles of the past and adapt them with a modern twist to create their own spin on festival fashion. Here are some styles on the high street right now to inspire you to create your own festival look.

Animal print maxi dress, £69,
For Pride season 2019, River Island partners with anti-bullying charity Ditch The Label on an eight-piece unisex collection featuring the slogan We Are One in rainbow tones reflecting the brand message of unity, The sweatshirt is £28.
Black frayed denim shirts, £30; palm top, from a selection; belt bag, now £15. All at River Island.
Pink bumbag, £18, at River Island.
Hairband, £8; sunglasses, £14; top, £22; denim shorts, £32; bag, £38. All at River Island.