The complete festival fashion survival guide

As festival season kicks off, enters the arena where judgement is suspended and fashion anarchy reigns, advising you on everything from socks to choice of bag, and what to do if it rains…

As festival season kicks off, Venetia Rainey enters the arena where judgement is suspended and fashion anarchy reigns

Imagine, for a moment, a circus. Imagine the whip-wielding lion-tamers, the lycra bound acrobats, and the grotesquely made-up clowns. Picture them all in a large field, alternately running and tripping between brightly striped tents. Add unpredictable weather. This is what the average English festival is like.

The costume adopted by those in attendance, therefore, must be fitting for such an event. In place of the lion-tamers are the trussed and corseted goths. Usually a group of girls with far too much flesh on show, desirable items of clothing including neon netting ra-ra skirts, ripped fishnet tights, impractically small pants, and some form of handwear. Whilst perfectly harmless, beware the crack of the whip: you may find yourself catching sight of far more than you want.

The acrobats walk a fine line. Too many colours and glow-wear run the risk of falling into the “nu-rave” net. Vision-inducing leggings are the mainstay of this group, best teamed with a slightly less luminescent baggy T-shirt and Ray-Bans. Even in the dark. Some sort of rope around the head finishes this outfit off. Shoelaces are preferable, but actual headscarves are acceptable if nothing else is available. Think zany. Cold? Wear socks tucked into your leggings in ballet pumps. Old? Moth-eaten charity shop cardigans fit surprisingly well into this category. Anything goes, just so long as it’s colourful, and you wear it with a certain amount of irony and pride.

Lastly, watch out for the clowns. They may look normal from far away, but up close their heavily layered make-up may shock and horrify. A thick, slightly off-skin tone foundation is added to lashings of mascara and bronzer. Kate Moss style shorts (high-waisted tight denim with artfully distressed hems) give a vintage look. Simple cotton vests in the muted shades of beige or cream are best, and have the added bonus of offsetting a (bottled) tan. Wellington boots should be worn, but only if they are in the authentic countryside hues of ‘Daddy-bought-me-a-pony’ green. Try Hunter.

In the midst of all this chaos, there are a few key pieces essential for maximum festival pleasure.

The over-the-shoulder bag is practical and versatile, and the smaller the better. For those with a penchant for the retro, this is probably the only arena where bum-bags are truly acceptable. Glued to your hips and with more pockets than you could shake a candy floss stick at, go for one in battered leather or with an eighties pattern.

Footwear, largely dictated by weather, can make or break your experience. Pack flip-flops, which are light and take up little room, for good weather. Pack boots, of any description, for not so good weather. Wellies are of course superior in this field, but those leather boots will serve the purpose too. Once the mud-bath begins, it is strongly advisable to just stay in your boots. Trust me, you won’t want to put them back on once you get them off.

Socks, closely linked with footwear, should not be underestimated. The longer the better, so that they can be used as both a style-statement and as leg-warmers.

Finally, layers. Take how many days long the festival is, and multiply it by four. That is how many tops you need. Pack anything thin, interesting and soft on the skin. Tube-tops, vests, t-shirts, leotards, unitards, long-sleeved tops, crop-tops, shirts, cardigans and jumpers: pack them all. Layering is the secret to an ever-evolving and versatile look throughout the festival. It is also the secret to keeping warm when British weather kicks in, or when night-time falls.

The great thing about festivals is that, although there will be people trying to emulate one look or another, there is also a complete and utter lack of judgement of whatever you do end up wearing. So run wild, and most of all, enjoy the spectacle.


  1. Very enjoyable read.

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  2. Another environmental note is the production of garments and accessories made from endangered species: Siamese crocodiles and pythons. Tis a shame to sacrifice one species just to hold your cell phone and wallet when going out, etc.

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