Why Coachella Isn't "Basic" - Identity Week


By Chloe Kent

Backstage at Coachella ’14 with a couple of “basic bitches.” All photos by Brittany Simon.

“If you’re a basic bitch, you LITERALLY LIVE for Coachella,” claimed VICE in their ‘Basic Bitches’ Guide to Coachella 2014‘ which ran last week. “You’ve been shopping on Nasty Gal for like, the past three months and have a shit ton of neon crop tops and probably a shirt that says ’90s’ on it with a yin-yang or a pizza,” wrote Kayla Monetta. “Basic bitches love music, but they love music festivals even more because DRUNK! SUN! INSTAGRAM! DANCING!”

With a crowd of Coachella’s size (90,000-plus and strong), it’s impossible to deem every or even MOST attendees “basic.” Sure, there does seem to be a reasonable amount of overlap with regards to what festival-goers wear each year, but it is a little inaccurate (if not unnecessarily judgmental, even for VICE) to condemn all Coachellians to the flower garland-and-kimono-wearing masses. I mean, way to pick the low hanging fruit there, guys.

The ultra-cynical, anti-sunshine millennial ethos of VICE aside, why do we feel the need to put on a uniform when we attend music festivals? Or is it simply that by trying to dress what we all think of as fashionably outlandish, we all become copies of each other?

First off, weather does tend to dictate fashion when you’re spending eight hours a day in the desert (although in no way does a flower garland protect you from the elements), and most of what festival-goers wear comes down to a matter of tradition, which otherwise goes hand-in-hand with necessity. Subscribing to a particular style of dress isn’t really the point so much as staying comfortable and not looking like an idiot.

That said, “I’ll wear this to a festival one day” is something I too am guilty of thinking every time I impulse-buy the same vintage denim Levi’s cutoffs several thousand other Coachella-goers wore this past weekend.

“Do you think I can get away with this?” A friend asks as we try on faux Native American-inspired headdresses. (The consensus, it seemed, was a resounding yes.)

I myself have been guilty of sporting many a flower garland, after my third or fourth festival the inclination to adorn my head dissipated, giving way to stark practicality and functionalism: no body glitter, nothing that could melt, nothing that sticks into my head. I wish I could add ‘no uncomfortable shoes’ to the list, but I haven’t crossed that bridge yet.

Perhaps that’s why I feel the need to defend these so-called, “basic bitches.” If I do say so myself, I’m by no means basic and have never been accused of such. Yet even I find myself at times playing into the mold of “what would the ideal festival-goer wear?” Most Coachellians, however, are most likely not festival regulars (hence the need for VICE and the rest of the internet to hate) and are simply excited to get out of their normal routine for a while and eat some churros and dress like pixie alien babies–but there’s nothing wrong with that either!

You wouldn’t fault someone for wearing a Hawaiian shirt while on vacation, would you? (Admittedly I might, but that’s a different story.)

The people who most boldly stand out at Coachella, I must say, are the ones who totally buck any version of what’s considered traditionally (shall we say “festive?”) and wear something you’d normally never see at any festival.

Like these guys.

A girl wearing a completely sheer floor-length chiffon dress with suede fringe strategically covering part of the bodice walked past us several times and we always noticed her. The gown distinctively gave the appearance that she was naked, even after the initial double take. (For purposes of clarity, the phrase “Native American cave hippie” was agreed upon to describe it.) “Who is that? Is she famous,” my photographer wondered aloud.

Could that be considered the highest compliment at a so-called “dress up festival?” Is Coachella mostly a collection of people dying to be mistaken for a famous person, or photographed by a streetstyle photographer?

In my mind, probably not. Despite what the internet may lead us to believe, Coachella is a music festival, where people comes from hours and continents away for only one real cause–to listen to great music.

Sure, there are times when Coachella particularly can seem perhaps a bit too self-aware (or too little?), when similarly-presented acts all seem to feature LCD screens intercut with explosions and burning buildings and ample “surprise” guest appearances to the point of blithe expectation from the audience.

But really, what else are these festivals for? It’s not like they look all that less ridiculous (or any less conformist) than their Woodstock-attending parents, right?