Over the course of the three-day festival, I don’t clock a single flower crown. The prevailing culturally questionable artifact I see still floating around are bamboo-framed oil-paper umbrellas, which originated in China but are popular throughout Asia, and are permitted under the festival’s curious “parasols but no actual umbrellas” rule.
Younger attendees tell me how they’d planned their outfits for weeks, taking inspiration from TikTok and Pinterest and ordering new things from fast fashion sites like Shein and Princess Polly. But on Sunday evening, I run into a group of Coachella veterans over by the rainbow-paned Spectra tower, a semi-famous Coachella landmark. I wonder what “Coachella style” means to them.
“Well, I feel like I’m very seasoned, so I think practical. I think lightweight jackets, pants, layers. Definitely have shitkickers on, whatever sort of closed-toe boots,” says Alana, 36, who’s attending with friends Brittany and Quentin. Together, they reckon this is somewhere between their 10th or 14th Coachella, if you count going double weekends. (According to Alana: “We keep saying, ‘Oh, this is our last year.’ And then something always comes up, and we’re just like, ‘All right, we’ll go again. This is our last year, but…’”) The group says they noticed a vibe shift around 2015 or so, when the festival’s fashion and overall atmosphere started feeling more corporate.
“The influencer culture tapped in and [Coachella] became a different thing. You started seeing people show up with personal photographers and taking ‘real’ photos,” says Quentin, who’s wearing a bevy of niche SoCal streetwear brands: shorts and bucket hat by Supervsn, socks by Tyler, the Creator’s Golf Wang, bandana by That’s A Awful Lot Of Cough Syrup. “I just saw a guy [who] looked like he was dressed like a cheese grater and I get it, but I don’t quite get it. I feel like: It’s hot. How do you pee? What’s going on?”
Alana, who’s wearing a patch-covered denim jacket, loose printed pants, and white cowboy boots, adds: “It came to a point where the outfits stopped being less practical and more for the ’Gram.”
When I spy a trio of very stylish performing artists outside a hotel in nearby Indian Wells waiting on their ride to the festival grounds, I ask: What does Coachella style mean to you?
“Freedom,” Mao, age 30, and Tokumi, 31, say in unison. Mao is wearing a pair of psychedelic-print pants and Nike Shox; Tokumi has on a sheer black shirt, a metallic silver bucket hat, and cushy green Croc boots. Surely, there is beauty in dressing comfortably, in not wanting there to be too much in between you and the music. There is also beauty in spending time planning an outfit and executing it perfectly here in this square of exquisite desert.
“It definitely is the festival of runway fashion,” says Tsola, 26, a Coachella first-timer wearing a white mini skirt and neon green knee-high heeled boots. “Before it was more like, you have to dress in regards to the weather: ‘We’re in the desert, it’s hot, you got to wear a mask and shorts.’ But now it’s really coming in to serve looks, babe. I really do believe it’s giving Grammys but Coachella. Red carpet for sure.”