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Coachella 2024 fashion
Taylor Swift and Travis KelcePhotography Gilbert Flores/WWD via Getty Images

Coachella is having a fashion identity crisis

While some are hung up on denim cutoffs and cowboy boots, others have gone incognito, creating a seismic fashion rift in the Californian desert

Guys. Something just shifted. “No Coachella for me this yearrrr,” wrote Vanessa Hudgens on her Instagram page, alongside a snap of her at the festival splayed out on a pink towel. “Hope y’all are having the time of your lifeeee.” Whether we like it or not, over the last decade Hudgens has come to embody a singular type of Coachella fashion girl, codified in floral headdresses, cut-off Daisy Dukes, fringed playsuits and brown suede cowboy booties. Though the small matter of pregnancy meant she was sitting this round out, Hudgens’ absence sent shockwaves across the globe. “This is like if the president stopped going to the white house,” wrote one mystified Twitter user.

Despite the decisive blow to Big Flower Crown, the show must go on, and the fall of Coachella’s arch-diva surely meant another would emerge in her place. Well… not exactly. Instead, this year’s edition was a tale of two festivals, as Coachella’s fashion was split unhappily down the middle by two warring factions. On one side, there was the mid-10s hangover of which Hudgens has become the poster child, and on the other a pseudo-laissez-faire approach, a style that loudly proclaimed it did not care what people thought, which of course meant that it did. While one side of the chasm – the capital-F “Festival fashion” one – is slowly becoming subsumed by the other, some attendees are clinging on, with Coachella 2024 undergoing the biggest fashion identity crisis we’ve seen yet.

This year, doppelgangers Amelia Gray and Gabriette took the laid-back approach. Gray was in a white tank and denim boy shorts, while Gabriette opted for her signature Bayonetta glasses, jeans, and a leather bandeau. Über-couple Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce did the same, and while they’ve never been true fashion players, they clearly got the memo that not trying at all was the new trying too hard, turning up in face-covering caps and laundry day leftovers. Elsewhere, Billie Eilish was spotted at Tyler, the Creator’s set going incognito in a black hoodie, later taking the stage in her own extreme baggy sports casuals.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, Paris Hilton floated in wearing lashings of body jewellery, a cowboy hat and matching boots looking very quintessentially Coachella. Megan Fox also made an appearance in her own wicker cowboy hat, one she matched with pale blue beachy waves and denim cutoff shorts. Add a gaggle of influencers like Charli D’Amelio and James Charles to the mix, and it’s clear that a huge divide has emerged: one between those still committed to ‘dressing for a festival’ and those who are just too cool to worry about all that.

To understand how this shift took place, we must first interrogate the psychological conditions from which it arose. The year is 2014, and a new kind of It-girl is emerging. Born from the fires of the v1 Instagram feed, millionaire tweens like Selena Gomez, Hailey Baldwin, the Jenners and Hadids have arrived, flexing their new-found status at the stages of Coachella. Eyebrow-raising bindis abound, as do suede waistcoats, Monsoon-coded jewellery, felt fedoras and printed flares. Skip to 2016, and the clothes may be more refined and a little less dated, but the same codes are still there.

Rather than a subcultural style in and of itself, 2010s Coachella fashion was a rehashing of what the children of Hollywood entertainers thought festival fashion was. The prints and jewellery and floaty dresses were nothing new – a cursory Google search could attest to that. It was these 70s hippie signifiers that were then crudely reinterpreted by those who were, for some, considered arbiters of cool. It’s no surprise that, during this time, it was Hudgens – a perfectly nice but not exactly fashion-forward person – who became the face of this kind of dressing.

As the years ticked on, the style trickled down to the masses, and then the emerging influencer class got their hands on it, watering down even further. Fashion progressed in that time, as did Coachella’s signature style, becoming more streetwear-influenced, but the foundations of maximalism laid by those women stayed the same. So what happens when a style is repeated yearly and comes to have no meaning? What happens when a facsimile of a facsimile becomes the dominant mode of dressing? Well, James Charles turns up in a mullet wig, Martine Rose Nike Shox and a sandblasted denim jacket, apparently. Outfits like this prove “dressing for a festival” has become so diluted people forget why they were making an effort in the first place.

That’s why we’ve found ourselves at this crossroads. The A-listers have to separate themselves from the influencers who still make that effort – they have to signal that they’re somehow different. It’s no surprise, then, that the arbiters of a once-dominant style are switching sides. This year, Kendall Jenner was spotted with a cap pulled firmly over her face, while Hailey Bieber chose to do the same with a silk scarf on top (because nothing says “don’t perceive me” like a leopard print Babouska wrap). Of course, fashions change and people grow up and move on – it certainly isn’t ten years ago anymore. But part of this change is tied up in the need for some to distance themselves from those trying just that little bit too hard. So, if you find yourself in the desert for next weekend’s round, and a festival fit is yet to present itself, which side will you be taking?

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