And then there’s the just plain bad. Most of what the attendees of Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival’s first weekend wore fell into this latter category.
Not that it’s their fault. Since the dawn of Instagram (way back when in 2010), the 19-year-old festival has become a beacon for social-media-induced FOMO (“fear of missing out,” now an outdated term but an idea that continues to persist) and the look-at-me fashion that inevitably spawned from it.
For Coachella festivalgoers, getting dressed means combining attention-seeking one-upmanship (which rules street style) with the millennial ethos of nostalgia. It takes its shape in the fringe, denim and, yes, flower crowns that harken back to the perceived hippie styles of Woodstock and Isle of Wight festivals. But it’s also about ’90’s-era childhood items that give a sense of comfort — even if they look insanely ugly. What is most often left out of this equation is an actual sense of personal style, the kind that can make a bad outfit look interesting.
Fashion, of course, is also to blame: It has overindulged customers in said nostalgia items like dad shoes, fanny packs and track suits. This season, there are also heaping doses of neon, tie-dye, biker shorts and “ugly” shoes to add to the mix. It doesn’t help that street-style peacocks, influencers and models like Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin regularly tout these items as must-haves, showing off looks that explore the gray area of bad fashion. But fashion is notoriously tricky to translate to real life, and for Coachella, fashion’s “bad fashion” looks like rock-bottom style IRL.
Jeremy Scott’s Coachella parties have also lent their influence on the festival’s sense of style. Scott is the master of the so-bad-it’s-good school of fashion, and each of his collections takes a pop culture theme and distills it into a campy version of itself. It works for his legions of club-kid (or former-club-kid) followers, who are fluent in the language of fringe fashion.
Onstage, performers were mostly dressed in the so-bad-it’s-good variety. J Balvin, Anderson Paak, Bad Bunny and Burna Boy all showed how menswear’s coordinating prints can look pulled together — no matter how outrageous the motif — and Billie Eilish’s baggy proportions were just right. Ariana Grande paired her puff-sleeved Sailor Moon getup and thigh-high boots with the pinnacle of millennial nostalgia — a performance with NSYNC. But music artists have the luxury of professional stylists, experts who can perfect the alchemy of bad-good fashion. For anyone else, ugly fashion has an incredibly high learning curve — one that is nearly impossible to achieve in the span of a three-day music festival.
Still, beauty — and perhaps some bad fashion — is in the eye of the beholder. If someone is having fun, does it matter if what they’re wearing is ugly? Maybe not, especially in our age of inclusion and judgment-free self-expression, but one thing is likely: Plenty of deleted Instagram posts in a few years.
See more of the bad fashion of Coachella.
Watch the video below on J Balvin’s sneaker closet.