IN the summer of 2007, one trend lit up Australian festivals from coast to coast. Singlets, shirts and headbands arrived in blinding shades of orange, pink, yellow and green.
Sometimes they were paired with flashing glowsticks looped around the wrist, or together white denim shorts that quickly became dirty and grass-stained over the course of a sweaty January day. Suddenly, fluro was everywhere – until it wasn’t.
By 2008, the trend was already over. “I can picture after that summer, walking into shops and every sales rack just being full of fluro,” recalls seasoned festival photographer Maclay Heriot.
Fluro may have been one of Australia’s first questionable festival fads, but it wasn’t the last. As Maclay puts it: “there’s a lot of dark areas of festival fashion, isn’t there?”
He would know. Maclay has been shooting Australia’s festivals since the mid-2000s, first cutting his teeth at Big Day Out in the days when punters would arrive with the Australian flag worn around their shoulders like a cape. Across his career, he’s had a lot of time to observe the good, the bad and the ugly of festival trends. “I entered in that weird late-2000s era,” he says. “It was all big sunnies, fluro, muscle tees, denim shorts, face paints.”
In the years since our fluro moment, Australia’s obsession with festival fashion has only grown. Today, the demand for festival-ready looks is so big that it’s become an unofficial retail season.
We have chewed through trends like floppy hats, crochet dresses, flower crowns and animal onesies. Through it all, many of us have walked around for days afterwards in glitter that won’t quite rub off, or learned the hard way what happens when you don’t wear gumboots to Splendour in the Grass.
“I think the best looks are vintage. They’re good if it’s a slight nod to a trend without it looking like an exact uniform." - Monique Moynihan, stylist
Festival attire wasn’t always this agonised over – from the looks of things, it used to be more about practicality. Flick through photos from the raves of the ’90s and you’ll see effortlessly cool crowds dressed, variously, in bucket hats, JNCO jeans, baggy FILA t-shirts, crop tops, sneakers and sunglasses with coloured lenses. (All styles you might have seen swing back around at festivals over the last few years.)
The shift to festivals becoming places to bring your fashion A-game happened after the turn of the century, says Monique Moynihan, a stylist who has worked with artists like Troye Sivan, Moses Sumney, and The Preatures.
“I feel like it stepped up a notch around the mid to late-2000s,” Monique reflects. “It was when Kate Moss and Alexa Chung and all them were photographed in Glastonbury in their wellies and their boho hats.”
Basically, she says, “it was when celebs and models off duty started being photographed [at festivals]”.
“I can never get enough gold jewellery. It’s a cultural thing — I’m Arab, I’m Iraqi and Syrian… to me, it’s a reminder of where I come from.” - Wafia
A FEW years after Kate Moss famously rocked a mini gold lurex dress at Glastonbury, singer-songwriter Wafia was 17-years-old and about to attend her first ever festival: Splendour.
“I had never seen festival fashion before, so I was just rugged up for the cold,” she recalls. “I wasn’t thinking about how I should dress.”
The early days of festival-going felt similar for loved-up Brisbane duo Cub Sport. “I remember the first Splendour in the Grass I went to. I was wearing Cheap Monday black skinny jeans and a flanno,” says singer Tim Nelson. “Just things that I wouldn’t wear these days … I don’t think I own a flanno anymore.”
Sartorially, a lot has changed for both Cub Sport and festival crowds since then. For one: “Everyone is very aware of a bunch of cultural appropriation and just problematic outfits and I think we’re all ready to move past that,” says Tim. “Close the door and lock it.”
Headdresses aside, for Monique there have still been plenty of fashion lowlights over the last decade. “I hate flower crowns. I hate gladiator sandals. I hate those short shorts where the bum cheeks are hanging out. All of it,” she says. “A lot of those were misses for me, and still are.”
Men have their own hall of shame. 2013 marked the arrival of the animal onesie, which became the go-to festival outfit for gronks around the country. One retailer told The Sydney Morning Herald that year they had sold 6000 of the then-ubiquitous suits in the space of six hours.
Then in 2019, a $29.99 men’s shirt — nicknamed, fittingly, The Festival Shirt — became ubiquitous enough to be memed.
Maclay’s pet peeve is something more enduring. “The consistent fashion over the years has been men still wearing tank tops,” he says. “There’ll always be a guy in a tight tank.”
But today, Cub Sport feels festival fashion is evolving in a good direction.
“I feel like a lot of the stuff that is popular now seems more comfortable and practical,” says Cub Sport keyboardist Sam “Bolan” Netterfield. “It seems like people are happy when they’re wearing festival wear. They feel free. I think that’s really cool.”
CUB Sport have certainly found their style over the last five years.
Nowadays, the pair dress in an aesthetic they describe as “ethereal but edgy” or a mix of “minimal, sexy, angelic demonic”. They credit coming out as the catalyst for changing their style.
“We did a bunch of touring before we were out and a lot of my style choices at that time were like, ‘How can I present myself so that people don’t know that I’m gay?’” Tim recalls. “I think when you get to a place where you’re really wearing what you wanna wear, and what makes you feel good within yourself, that is when your style really elevates.”
Sam agrees. “I think it’s just about learning to trust what feels right and how you want to express yourself and be fearless with it.”
Today Cub Sport like to use festivals to “go big” with their outfits.
“There’ll always be people walking past hundreds of metres away and if they just look over and see you on a screen or ages away on a stage, it’s an opportunity to make an impact on that person,” Tim says. “Maybe they’ll be like ‘that looks cool’ and they’ll come over and then realise that they love the music.”
It’s not just Cub Sport who feel that way. Monique says performers have stepped things up in the fashion stakes as much as festival audiences. “[Artists] get photographed, they get publicity and people often ask — especially girls, unfortunately — what they’re wearing. So I think they do have to make a conscious effort when dressing for festivals.”
And as for Wafia, staying true to herself has been the key to finding her festival style.
“When I think about festival wear in Australia, it’s very glittery, it’s a bikini as a top. I try not to let that influence me too much. Because I’m like, I want to look like everyone else! I want to fit in. But I have to remind myself that I’m an artist and I don’t necessarily have to.”
“I think a festival is an opportunity to go a little crazy with it,” she says. “I try and find my [own way of doing that] and that might be trying something new with make-up, or wearing bigger earrings.”
Right now, Wafia’s favourite festival accessory is a gold grill she had custom made. “I can never get enough gold jewellery. It’s a cultural thing — I’m Arab, I’m Iraqi and Syrian… to me, it’s a reminder of where I come from.”
SO what makes a good festival outfit in 2021?
“I think the best looks are vintage,” says Monique. “They’re good if it’s a slight nod to a trend without it looking like an exact uniform. Say a cute little denim jumpsuit, which could be an ode to the ’60s or ’70s, but without going the whole flower crown and fringing route.”
She advises against “putting way too many ideas in one outfit” or following a fad too closely. Your clothes have got to be practical and work with the weather, not against. But most of all, Monique says, “you’ve gotta make it your own… and not look like you’re wearing a festival starter pack, like everybody else.”
Maclay agrees. “Fast fashion, for me, isn’t really interesting.”
He says he’s always looking “for stuff that’s a little different to shoot”. Heriot loves photographing festivals like Soundwave, where crowds rock up in the denim, patches and band tees they wear in their everyday life. “I love to shoot that stuff because it’s more what that person would wear all the time. They live that, so it feels genuine. I want stuff that’s going to stand the test of time.”
But even with all the questionable fashion moments, he thinks the expression that festivals allow is part of their appeal.
“There’s always going to be groups of people where it’s their first opportunity to go to a festival and they want to make it the best,” he says. “Maybe [the clothes] their way of contributing to the festival experience.”
“Because it’s not just the music that makes a festival — it’s the people, the fashion, the different influences and styles. That’s what makes it so fun.”
But if there’s one trend he’s happy to not see make a comeback? “Fucking fluro,” he laughs. “It’s horrible.”