Fashioning Glastonbury Festival

The 'festival fashion' industry has only really existed since the mid-2000s, following several appearances at Glastonbury Festival by the model Kate Moss.

The height of her influence was in 2005, when she was photographed with her then boyfriend (and frontman of The Libertines) Pete Doherty. Her now-iconic look – tousled hair, gold dress, leather jacket, Hunter wellington boots and the ultimate accessory, an indie band boyfriend – suddenly decreed that festivals could be places for style and glamour, rather than just mud and mayhem.

(Left to right:) Kate Moss (in less practical footwear) and Pete Doherty at Glastonbury Festival, 2007. Copyright Jason Bryant; Pair of wellington boots, 'Hunter Green', made by Gates Rubber Company, 1989, Scotland. Museum no. T.361&A-1989. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

At the same time, Moss single-handedly saved Hunter Boot Ltd., a Scottish brand that had been most well-known for supplying soldiers with waterproof footwear during the World Wars. The unforgettable image of superstar Moss in humble, muddy knee-high boots, amongst the other festival revellers, was a defining moment.

Since then, the explosion of festivals in the UK, the rise of 'street style' and social media influencers, the media coverage of US festival behemoth Coachella, and the increased scrutiny of celebrities at Glastonbury has led to the widespread commercialisation of 'festival fashion'. High street retailers prepare for the festival months of May to August as a separate catwalk season, stocking up with glitter, flower crowns, patterned rain macs, denim shorts and statement sunglasses.

Poncho rain cape and carrying bag, designed by Mary Quant, 1989 – 90, Britain. Museum no. T.195:1, 2-1997. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Glastonbury has hosted several iconic fashion moments in the past 20 years, but its impact on and relationship with clothing goes far deeper than just a marketing phenomenon – it has reflected, subverted and redefined fashion, whether worn by its 'punters', performers or even its organisers.

A place for experimentation

For many, Glastonbury Festival symbolises freedom, escape and experimentation. The fields of Worthy Farm that host the Festival act as the perfect stage for attendees to explore and play with sartorial choices, bolstered by its inclusive, chaotic and creative atmosphere. Across the site you can encounter flagrantly theatrical outfits on the Pyramid Stage, spectacular costumes in the Theatre & Circus Fields, handmade garments in the Green and Healing Fields, and the carnivalesque clothing of performers in Block9, The Unfairground, Shangri-La and The Common.

"The oppositions and ambiguities that characterize British fashion and the garments worn by festival-goers are part of the Festival's unique national spirit, from punk to pageantry, anarchy versus monarchy, or when displaying or parodying Cool Britannia's ostentatious signs of Britishness and the Britpop culture".

Julie Morère, in 'Fashion Photography and Festival Culture: What Glastonbury's Space Does to the Imagination' (2014)
(Left to right:) Blue Man, early 1990s. According to the photographer, the man had used household emulsion paint. © Ann Cook; Festival-goers in fancy dress at the Chapel of Love and Loathing (part of the Lost Vagueness field). © Ann Cook

Making a statement

Like any city, Glastonbury is home to many subcultures which reflect its musical tapestry. The Festival is a welcoming space for earnest self-expression across music and politics, reflected in clothing, hair styles and accessories.

Printed cotton T-shirt, Glastonbury 1990, unknown maker, 1990, Britain. Museum no. T.606-1997. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The five decades of the Festival have traversed every major new wave of music, from punk and reggae, to grunge and acid rave. The Festival has also continued to attract its core traveller community, who were instrumental in the development of the early years of the Festival. The freedom to co-exist and celebrate these subcultures during the Festival is partly why Glastonbury is seen as the ultimate celebration of the diversity of UK culture.

(Left and right:) Cotton jersey patched leggings, part of a New Age Traveller costume, assembled and worn by Fraggle, a member of the Dongas tribe, 1989 – 93, Britain. Museum no. T.486-1994. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
(Left to right:) Punk leather customised jacket, unknown maker, 1977, Britain. Museum no. T.424-1993. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; T-shirt, cotton printed with design of African flags, unknown maker, 1970s, Britain. Museum no. T.75-1994. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
(Left to right:) Small circular pin badge with a ‘Smiley Face’, by Button Up, mid-1980s, New York, US. Museum no. T.48-2014. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Trainers, Adidas, part of an outfit that was worn by DJ Slamma, 1994, Britain. Museum no. T.980:1, 2-1994. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Glastonbury Festival is now one of the largest cultural platforms in the world with a truly global audience. In 2019, the BBC alone registered 37.5 million views for its Glastonbury footage across its iPlayer and YouTube platforms. Glastonbury's size and influence helps to drive change and combat injustice. In 2015, the Festival banned the wearing of Native American headdresses following a petition that called their wearing by non-Natives, 'an offensive and disrespectful form of cultural appropriation'.

The stab-proof vest emblazoned with the Union Jack worn by Grime artist Stormzy in 2019 is perhaps the defining fashion statement of the Festival's modern age. Designed by the artist Banksy, the vest was worn as a comment on the ongoing knife crime crisis in the UK, as well as racial inequality in the justice system. The high-profile appointment of Stormzy to Glastonbury's top-billing – as the first black British solo artist headliner – brought increased attention and the opportunity to communicate an important political message.

Stormzy, Glastonbury Festival, 2019. © Andrew Timms

Return of the flower child

In The Festival Book (2017) by Michael Odell, he cites the classic festival look as "florals and psychedelic colours, smocks and sandals. 'Hippy' is the classic festival look, a tribute to the original flower-power generation". The first Glastonbury Festival in 1970 occurred the day after Jimi Hendrix died, following the era-defining Woodstock and Isle of Wight Festivals. The clothing worn at the early festivals reflected a similar countercultural crowd, advocating homemade garments and clothing picked up on the 'hippy trail' (popular spiritual journeys across India and Peru).

(Left and right:) Glastonbury, 1970s. © Brian Walker

The hallmarks of the era – beaded necklaces, tie-dye, leather waistcoats, flower crowns, denim – continue to define what is 'festival fashion' today. Occasionally re-defined as 'bohemian rock chick' by the likes of Kate Moss, Alexa Chung and Sienna Miller, little has changed since the 1970s – including the festival presence of the 'it girl'. In 1971, actress Julie Christie and models Jean Shrimpton and Dee Palmer attended the Festival alongside director Nicholas Roeg (capturing the event for his documentary Glastonbury Fayre). As the New York Times concluded in a 2019 assessment of modern festival fashion: 'Tune in, turn on, dress (and pay) up'.

Jacket and trousers, worn by Roger Daltrey from The Who at the Isle of White Festival, 1969, unknown maker. Museum no. S.204&A-1978. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Dressing for destruction

The deterioration and destruction of clothing is considered part of the festival experience. Glastonbury has frequently been plagued by torrential rain, meaning that no matter how fashionable you try to be, it is more than likely that everyone will end up looking exactly the same: head-to-toe in waterproofs and spattered in mud.

A festival-goer defeated by the mud, 1990s. © Ann Cook

"The real Glastonbury experience comes from all of us being in it together. The joy of seeing a favourite performer, the frustration of missing mate – "I said three o’clock at the beer tent" – the fun of buying clothes you are never going to wear again, the glory of a Somerset sunrise, the chill of the rain".

Billy Bragg, Glastonbury: An Oral History of the Music, Mud and Magic (Crispin Aubrey, John Shearlaw, 2005)

This is primarily why the wellington boot has become the defining sartorial symbol of the Festival and a carrier of superstitious properties. Even if the weather prediction is glorious sunshine, if you don't bring your wellies, it will definitely rain. Some stage performers have also successfully glamorised the iconic footwear of the Festival, such as Dame Shirley Bassey, who wore a diamante-studded pair in 2007.

The often apocalyptic scenes of Glastonbury have also served as a setting for fashion shoots, including those by Tim Walker (1998), Corinne Day (2005) and Louise Dearden (2010). For Tim Walker's shoot, model Kirsty Hume describes the process: "We'd have to put on waterproof trousers and jackets over our clothes. For some shots we'd simply push the waterproofs down to our knees and stand there, while Tim shot from the knees up. Here, the passer-by is actually holding the blanket in place. You can feel the chaotic atmosphere. You can also get the sense that the cold, the mud and rain don't really matter…"

Tim Walker fashion shoot at Glastonbury. © Tim Walker

The ultimate festival look that fuses fashion with practicality remains paramount, as perfectly illustrated by Glastonbury's founder Michael Eavis. For the majority of the past five decades of the Festival's history, Michael has not deviated from his trademark shorts – comfortable, quick-drying and with multiple useful pockets.

"The truth of the matter is that I was wearing shorts for an anti-bomb, anti-Thatcher CND march and Emily was on my shoulders, and I wore shorts because it was quite a warm day actually. And my GP's wife was walking behind me. She said, "Do you know what Michael, you've got the most amazing legs?" No-one had ever said that to me before. So I've worn shorts ever since!"

Michael Eavis, interview with Somerset Live, 2017
Michael Eavis in front of the Pyramid Stage. © Glastonbury Festival

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(Detail) Glastonbury, 1970s. Image credit Brian Walker