The Evolution of Coachella from Music to Fashion

By Paige Corwin

The elders might have sniffed at the sexual, and potentially revolutionary, undertones inherent in the new music, but here at last was a genuinely popular culture, endorsed by the masses and met by a seemingly non-stop flow of hard-up heroes armed simply with attitude and a guitar.

–Mark Paytress, rock journalist for Mojo and Q magazine

The words of Mark Paytress evoke the true spirit of music festivals, whose initial stirrings can be traced back to the 20ththe late ‘60s and early ‘70s during the heyday of rock ‘n’ roll. Music festivals became a cultural phenomenon, a movement to express the vision of love, peace and freedom, inspired by the lyrics and beliefs of the musicians themselves. Legendary music festival Woodstock didn’t intend to mark an apotheosis for the world of music, but those three days in Bethel, N.Y., manifested one of the most powerful musical statements of modern times.


Photo courtesy of Huffington Post

Origins of Coachella

            Paul Tollett created and founded the two-day Coachella Music and Arts Festival on the fields of the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif. – just months after the disastrous re-creation of Woodstock in 1999.  Coachella was the first festival in the U.S. to attempt to capture the style and essence of European festivals, such as Glastonbury and Reading. The success of the first Coachella music festival was attributed to offering an array of music genres, including rock’ n’ roll, electronic, hip-hop, pop and alternative. The expansive grass fields encompassed by the idyllic desert mountains of Indio proved to be the ideal setting for the harmonious blend of musical talents.

Festival Fashion        

Today, every Coachella festival brings a new perspective, providing festivalgoers with the interminable power to express their diverse style year after year. The evolution of festival fashion did not originate at Coachella, but rather is a transplant theme from European festivals. As Coachella continues to progress in the music scene, it has also become an established venue in the world of fashion. The LA Times recently stated, “In recent years, the festival has achieved another notoriety: as a world-class fashion parade where, to paraphrase the old Guns N’ Roses lyric, the grass is green, the girls are pretty, and laid-back street-ware choices can define the women who wear them at least as much as their musical predilections.” As much as it is a music festival, it is also a fashion show, a place to see and be seen.

Photo courtesy of Vogue

Photo courtesy of Vogue

            Fashionistas go into Coachella weekend with impeccably styled ensembles, part flower child and part indie rocker. California native and third-year Coachella veteran Kate Wilson says, “It’s always such a fashion scene at Coachella. With all the celebrities, musicians and artists, there are always photographers around.  Everyone is vying to catch their [the photographers’] attention with their distinctive style.” With the various types of music fans co-mingling, it’s always bound to be an interesting display of street fashion.

My First Coachella

Intrigued by the promising lineup and the opportunity to go to one of the most aesthetically pleasing festivals in the country, my girlfriends and I decided to make the journey to the desert for the first weekend of Coachella. It was a first-time experience for all of us, armed only with stories from past festival devotees and our own expectations for the weekend. Our expectations were not only met but exceeded. Coachella proved to feature some of the most inspiring exhibitions of style and innovation – in art, music and fashion.  My festival companion Alexandra Sisto explained the significance of style at Coachella, describing the festival as “a place where people can freely express whatever they would like through their style.”

“It’s a weekend free of judgment and convention, where everyone gathers in unison for their love of music and fashion,” Sisto says. “It truly has become a destination to showcase your individual style.  The entire weekend is visually exciting.”

Elements of Coachella

            Whether you are a fashion blogger seeking fame, an ex-hippie looking to relive your glory days or a true fan who can’t live without the music, Coachella is your festival of choice: an extravaganza filled with visually stunning art installations, an unending flow of fashion and tents of international DJ’s spinning until the early hours of the morning. Coachella is a sensory overload.

            It is still a musical festival, though, so unless you are lounging at one of the pool parties, or mingling in one of the many beer gardens, you are wandering the field’s massive grounds or raving alongside the other 180,000 attendees, so you still want your outfit to be cohesive with your surroundings. You’ve got to be sure you’re comfortable.  Frequent festival goer Mallory Olson says: “ I couldn’t come to Coachella without my Frye motorcycle booties, Balenciaga messenger bag, Chanel aviators and lots of light cover-ups. It’s chilly at night in the desert, so I always pack lots of layers.” Regardless of the searing temperatures and nightly wind gusts, Coachella fans persist through the natural elements and continue to look good while they are doing it.

Photo courtesy of Refinery 29

Photo courtesy of Refinery 29

Media Power

            The rising influence of social media is one of the contributing factors in the increasing popularity of Coachella as a fashion destination. With fashion blogging more powerful than ever before, our society has developed an incessant need to publically photograph our lifestyle.   Whether it is though Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, it’s all a platform for personal expression. One of my Coachella companions, Audrey Struve, is a social media intern for Plan B Public Relations: “ Social media is the most convenient outlet for people to share and display their opinions, thoughts, photographs, information, pretty much anything they want.,” Struve says. “Fashion bloggers have become the social hierarchy for our media-crazed generation.  People pay attention to what they have to say.”

Their opinions influence society. They have the power to create exposure, making their opinions matter.  The most elite fashion bloggers can attain an invite or a ticket to almost any event. Coachella is one of those events.  It is the perfect occasion to promote not only your own style but also the inspiring fashion happening around you.


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