Fashion has been integral to music festivals since Woodstock, and festival dressing around the world tends to exemplify the trends of the times. When I started going to festivals, it was all petticoat dresses, Pennywise T-shirts and seasonally inappropriate velvet. These days it’s short shorts, floral playsuits and culturally appropriated tribal headwear.
This cultural codependence peaks annually at Coachella, as the world’s biggest music artists frolic with fashion’s biggest influencers and everyone else tries to get a look-in. I’ve heard some women start planning their Coachella outfits as soon as tickets go on sale. I can barely plan my outfit for tomorrow.
This summer, at music festivals across Australia, an even stranger sartorial phenomenon has emerged. It seems hundreds of male punters have been rocking up to festivals in exactly. The same. Shirt.
The fashion fiasco was first spotted by Instagram user/fashion detective @ohhellocalum, and witnessed at Falls, Fomo Adelaide and Lost Paradise.
It was soon discovered that the garment in question – a short-sleeved button-down that could clothe a competitive bowling team – can be yours too, for just $29.99.
And because sometimes life is beautiful, it’s actually called Festival Shirt.
The Festival Shirt is currently available in 12 colourways, most of them featuring vertical stripes. There’s a subdued cream, blue and orange style that says, “I’m ready to meet your parents,” and a bold red, white and black stripe that screams, “I drive a sedan.” Cotton On confirmed to Guardian Australia that the shirt has been “one of our most popular styles for the season”.
The Festival Shirt has gone viral and, after more were spotted by pop culture site Junkee at Fomo Sydney last weekend – potentially thanks to the first stories, which have led to some kind of hideous shirt snowball effect even among women – it appears to be gaining momentum.
So, some questions: was this – at least initially – a simple coincidence, or did all these people all buy the same shirt on purpose, as a joke? Or did they all simply Google “festival shirt”, and click on the first thing they saw? Is Cotton On running an aggressive ad campaign that is only visible to dudes who like Peking Duk? Are dark forces at play here? Why the yellow one?
But seriously, why the yellow one?
I have theories. Firstly, yellow is very on-point right now. I myself currently have three tabs open with shopping baskets filled with yellow clothes (I probably won’t buy). It’s everywhere and it’s not going anywhere. According to retail data company Edited, yellow will continue dominating men’s and women’s fashion in 2019 with its buddies pink and green by its side.
Without getting philosophical about capitalism and class, high fashion has long been flirting with non-fashion brands. From Jeremy Scott’s McDonald’s accessories for Moschino, to Vetements’ DHL T-shirts and Balenciaga’s $2.5K bag that’s basically just an Ikea tote, lines have been blurred between pushing creative boundaries and just being arseholes.
And as we know, the survival of fast fashion brands is partly based on how well they emulate high fashion trends – so it should come as no surprise that, as the Daily Mail noted, the most popular iteration of the Festival Shirt could pass as an Ikea uniform, which could pass as a shirt by French label Vetements, which is now being made by Cotton On.
Celebrated costume designer Edith Head once said: “You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.” Apparently hundreds of festival bros want to sell flat-packed furniture. (Of course, it’s likely hundreds of women at these festivals were also wearing the exact same thing, such as a $29.99 pair of denim cut-offs or a crochet crop top. But as these items don’t have the sartorial audacity of the Festival Shirt, the women retained their individuality while also looking like everyone else there.)
In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell postulates that ideas spread like epidemics; that once they reach a point of critical mass they become unstoppable. Gladwell describes how in the mid-1990s, some club kids in New York City started wearing iconic dad-shoes Hush Puppies. Within months fashion icons like Isaac Mizrahi were falling over themselves to get a pair and the once-struggling brand couldn’t keep up with the orders. “No one was trying to make Hush Puppies a trend,” says Gladwell. “Yet, somehow, that’s exactly what happened.”
Could that be what’s happening here? Cotton On confirmed to Guardian Australia the shirt, inspired by “the global trend of bold, block colour stripes” which originated in Korea, is indeed “incredibly popular” with people who are “embracing the party vibe of summer”. But as for how it started, they had no light to shed.
Is the Festival Shirt a tipping point, or just a funny coincidence? Only time and several more music festivals will tell.