Post-Coachella 2022: On the Issue of Festival Clothing

The “boho” trend of festival wear often includes appropriated clothing from other cultures that is treated with little to no respect and contributes to other problems faced by the BIPOC community.

Coachella 2022 came and went, with the fashion of those in attendance at the forefront of many people’s minds. The festival, as well as many others like it, has gained a reputation of sorts for its “boho” style of clothing, which mimics the hippie trends of the ‘70s with long flowing dresses, flower crowns, fringes, and a dash of cultural appropriation. Time after time, celebrities and casual festival-goers alike have been called out for wearing headdresses, bindis, or dashikis, treating these often culturally-important items as nothing more than accessories. Despite the continuous outcry from people of those communities warning about the dangers of this trivialization, the fashion trend hardly ever seems to decrease. To better understand why these trends continue to persist, it helps to understand their origins.

When speaking about musical festivals, it’s hard not to mention Woodstock and its impact on the trends we still see today. The political turmoil which pervaded the US was at its height at the time, which ultimately drew much youth looking for an escape into the world of music. Aligning themselves with ideologies of rebellion and what they saw as a chance to change the mindset of the country, these youth shed their euro-centric identities in favor of ones they considered to be more “in-tune” with nature and peace. Of course, this meant only taking a surface-level look at Indigenous culture, falling head-first into the world of stereotypes and myths, and adopting the clothing so they could “look the part”.

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Coachella began in 1999 as a festival in the same vein as Woodstock and other musical celebrations. A similar fanbase was made up of typically left-leaning youth who sought to reject the standard US conventions formed around the soon-to-be yearly event. Traditions of the past were repeated, particularly when it came to the fashion of those in attendance. Once again seeking an alternative to more mainstream fast fashion, Coachella guests appropriated clothing from other cultures, often claiming they were doing it in honor of them, or simply finding it “comfortable”, and not (or refusing) to understand the cultural implications of them doing so. For years, these trends have repeated, and it has almost become the norm to see non-BIPOC walking around wearing bindis or headdresses.

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As stated before, the excuses used are old and half-hearted, laden with false claims of respect, where really there is just ignorance. Those who do wear that clothing see it as just a trend, not the appropriation and belittlement of sacred wear that contributes to the trivialization of the hardships faced by those other cultures. When a culture can be so openly mocked to have their sacred clothing worn as little more than an accessory, it’s not that hard for people to take it one step farther and not care when those cultures are victimized and brutalized in front of their eyes. It’s similar to the offensive depictions of Native Americans as sports mascots, the Washington Redskins or the Chiefs, it all adds to the myth that Indigenous people are no longer here, that they’re just a character in the story of America. So when people or influencers argue that “it’s just clothing”, it’s a dismissal of a serious problem that continues to plague the Indigenous community.

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It’s far more common now to see people being called out for their appropriation, and while this is a good step in getting rid of the practice, the problem continues to persist. The issue ultimately comes down to self-education, and whether or not people follow whatever trend is latest, or do the work to look into what they’re wearing and where it comes from. If support and appreciation are truly on these people’s minds, then there are ways to engage with the community without simultaneously doing harm to it as well. Self-education and supporting Indigenous-owned brands are both ways to uplift and interact with the culture in an actually productive manner.

Appropriation through clothing is not “harmless”  and it sets a dangerous precedent on how to treat the cultures in question. Participating and enjoying these festivals is not the problem, but idleness to dangerous and harmful trends is and will continue to be a self-sustaining issue until people take it upon themselves to seek out education and correct their behavior.