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Outdoor Music Festivals: What to Wear and How to Prepare

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Music festival
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Outdoor music festivals have always been a rite of passage for young adults. Flower children in the ’60s packed their bags and headed to San Francisco. Twenty-somethings from across the country hopped on Greyhounds and traveled to Catskills for Woodstock in the summer of ’69, while Deadheads roamed across the country well into the ’80s. With the ’90s came a surge in well-organized, blockbuster music festivals outside of major cities in the US, which were embraced by yuppies, grunge kids, and new hippies alike.

Today, music festivals are more common than ever. The first weekend of Coachella in California has already passed, but there are dozens of festivals scheduled this summer across the Midwest and the south. Earlier this week, we told you about Bonnaroo, Hangout, and the Electric Daisy festival, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. From Kanrocksas to Wakarusa, Lollapolooza to the Gentlemen of the Road tour, the options (and locations) are plentiful.

If you’re on the fence about shelling out the cash for one of these, think of it like this — you’re never going to be younger, have more energy, or have fewer responsibilities than you do RIGHT NOW.

These tickets are not cheap, but — to me — they are totally worth forgoing a few weekends out, skipping some trips to the mall, or picking up a couple of extra shifts at work. An outdoor music festival is something that you will remember and tell stories about for the rest of your life. And let’s face it — once you have a full time job, a pet, and a family of your own, you can’t exactly skip town and go on a three-day camp out as easily as you could before. Embrace your youth and seize your summer. Do something awesome and memorable now while you still have the chance!

Music festival crowd
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Although I’ve already been to several music festivals, this summer will be the first time I really get the full-on experience of sleeping in a tent, waiting in line for a shower, grabbing veggie burritos from food trucks, and being in sort-of seclusion from the rest of the world. I’m kicking off the summer with Wakarusa in the Ozark Mountains, then catching a rare Mumford and Sons show in Guthrie, Oklahoma (note: how random!) for the Gentlemen of the Road tour in September. I could not be more excited for either of these adventures!

Being the thoughtful planner that I am, I’ve done lots of research over the last month to make sure that I’ll not only be safe and comfortable, but will have as much fun as I possibly can at these events. I’ve compiled it all, and am thrilled to get to share with you some of the best tips and suggestions for enjoying an outdoor music festival.

At the end of this post, be sure to comment — especially if you have experience with these sort of concerts — and give some good advice to your fellow CF gals. We’re a community here, so don’t hold back if you have an awesome story or some good advice to share!

6 Packing Tips and Considerations for Outdoor Music Festivals

Rain at music festival
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1. Be prepared for all kinds of weather.

I know this probably a no-brainer, but I can’t think of an easier way to ruin your trip than to not have the right clothes with you. I know you smart girls will obviously check the weather forecast, but be sure to bring a pair of leggings, a hoodie, shoes that won’t get ruined in the rain, and an anorak. That way, you’ll be covered for any sort of surprises.

Also, sunscreen is completely non-negotiable. Oftentimes, the days with the most perfect, breezy weather lead to the worse sunburns because you don’t feel the sun roasting your skin. A swimsuit, flip flops, and a wide-brimmed hat seem like good ideas, too!

2. Have a plan for looking fabulous.

Sure, I understand that at these festivals, you spend all day (and possibly all night) outside. That said, ignoring my hygiene and appearance for four whole days is more than I can handle. Here are the best tips that I rounded up for staying fresh at festivals:

  • Bring cash for showers. A lot of campsites have locker room-style showers you can use for $5-$10 a pop. I don’t know about you, but to me this seems totally worth the cash. You might want to wear a pair of flip flops and your swimsuit while you shower too, just in case!
  • Pick up some bio-degradable shampoo. I’ve heard that at some nature-centric shows (like Bonnaroo and Wakarusa) you’re allowed to wash up in swimming streams as long as your products aren’t toxic to the environment. Sure it’s not ideal, but it seems like it could be an awesome way to freshen up greasy, sweaty hair in a pinch. Add some leave-in conditioner or scrunch your hair with salt spray, and you’ll be ready to go!
  • If you hate going to bed feeling sticky, baby wipes will be your new best friends. They’re the perfect way to swipe the grime away from your neck, underarms, forehead, feet, and more. Bring a full pack to leave at your campsite, then pack a few singles in plastic baggies to bring with you during the day.
  • This sounds pretty crazy, but seems like it’s worth a try. If you want to wash your face, but don’t have access to a sink, pour water into an upside down Frisbee and use it to rinse. Genius! Also, I’m sure that you could probably get away with brushing your teeth using a water bottle to rinse as well.
  • Remember your old standbys from home, dry shampoo and make-up primer. Dry shampoo will make even the dirtiest hair last another day or two (see our post on the best dry shampoos), while a good make-up primer will keep any make-up you have on from melting all over your face. I know some gals love to go make-up free, but I’m just not one of them!
  • While we’re on the subject of makeup, leave as much at home as you possibly can. You want to stick to things you can apply quickly and easily, and not bring anything that at high risk for melting. Personally, I think I’m just going to try to survive the weekend with Chapstick, highlighting powder, and waterproof mascara and eyeliner, but to each her own!
  • This is obvious, but double check to make sure you have hair ties, deodorant, contact solution, and any other essentials you think you might need.
  • Again, do not forget sunscreen! This will probably be the most important thing you pack all weekend.

Although I did plenty of research, I’m not an expert on this subject by any means. If you have any good music festival beauty tips to share with the rest of us, please leave a comment and the end of this post and tell us!

Music festival fashion
Photos Courtesy of ELLE

3. Pack smart.

Now isn’t the time to bring that Vera Bradley duffel you got for graduation — fancy or designer items will make you and your campsite a target for theft. Other things to keep in mind:

  • Only bring clothes that you wouldn’t be devastated if you lost or accidentally ruined.
  • Be sure to think about comfort first. I know that you want to wear that adorable crocheted halter top you just bought, but would you really want to spend all day tugging at your uncomfortable strapless bra?
  • Double check that your shoes won’t give you blisters, your shorts don’t chafe your legs, and the tops your wear don’t require constant adjustment.
  • It would probably be a smart idea to have bandages, feminine products, aspirin, granola bars, Gatorade, and a couple extra water bottles tucked in your bags as well.

4. Have your essentials with you at all times.

Carry a small backpack, a cross-body purse, or even a fanny pack with you during the day and use it to store your cell phone, camera, cash, ID, keys, and anything else that’s crucial with you. Your regular purse won’t work — you’ll want to have your hands free, and not risk accidentally setting it somewhere and forgetting about it. I hear that these concerts are generally very peaceful and safe — most people are just there to listen to music and have a great time. But, at the same time, it’s important to be prepared and cognizant of the people around you. Speaking of which…

Group of girls at music festival
Photo Credit

5. Safety first!

Any event that draws thousands of people will attract a handful of shady characters, but you’re at an even higher risk considering that many of these shows are overnight events, and, well, many people you encounter will be using alcohol or drugs. It’s super-important that you use the buddy system and stay very aware of your surroundings. Here are a few general rules to follow:

  • Concert festivals are a great place to meet people, but don’t go back to another person’s campsite without one of your friends.
  • Be careful about wandering too far away from main areas, and schedule specific meeting times for your group in case your cell phone dies.
  • Don’t carry too much cash with you, and be sure not to flash it around at vendors.
  • Don’t accept food or drinks from people you don’t know. If you start to feel weird or sick, tell a friend or security guard immediately and have them take you to the first aid tent.
  • Remember that it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

6. Embrace the experience.

You’ll never be able to duplicate an experience like an outdoor concert festival. Be sure to explore all aspects and really soak up the whole event. Meet new people. Join a yoga session or Frisbee game. Participate in an interactive art expo, learn to play hacky sack, or enjoy a hippie drum circle. We’re young and fun, and need to do these cool things while we still can. Don’t worry about how you look or what people will think. Just squeeze the juice out of your weekend and make this experience the best it can be.

Outfit Ideas

Of course, your ideal outfit for these festivals will depend on the temperature, location, and even the genre of music found at the event. Consider these looks as a good starting place to get you inspired!

Look 1:

Music festival outfit 1
Romper, Shoes, Backpack, Necklace

This outfit would keep you cool and looking cute all day — and all night — long! Assuming there’s a private place the use the restroom, a simple romper is an awesome and easy outfit to wear to a concert. It would look especially cute as a swimsuit cover-up if you happen to be wearing one. Canvas sneakers are comfy and practical, while this necklace adds some extra flair. Stow your essentials in a backpack and you’re ready to go!

Look 2:

Music festival outfit 2
Tank, Shoes, Shorts, Fanny Pack, Hairband

This ensemble would look particularly amazing at a dubstep or electronic music concert of sorts. Jean shorts and a fun tank make a great base, while a neon fanny pack and old school Nike Dunks will give you a cool retro vibe. Finish with a neat hair band.

Look 3:

Music festival outfit 3
Dress, Shoes, Bag, Hat, Salt Spray

This look reminds me of something a celebrity would wear to Coachella! A high-low dress like this is sexy, comfortable, and perfect for a concert setting. Flat sandals will look chic, but won’t hurt your feel. Add some salt spray to your hair, then let the textured strands peak out from underneath a cool hat. Finish with a cross-body bag.

Stories or Tips? Please Share Them!

What music festivals have you been to before? Where are you going this year? What unusual items did you wish you packed, and what did you pack that you ended up not using? What is the best live show you’ve ever been to? How did you keep smelling fresh and looking great over the weekend?

We want to know any tips or tricks you might have for us newbies. Please leave a comment and tell us your thoughts on summer concerts. Can’t wait to hear what you girls have to say!

Posted on on April 18, 2013 / Filed Under: Fashion Tips / Tags: , , , , , , ,

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30 Responses to “Outdoor Music Festivals: What to Wear and How to Prepare”

  1. 1
    April 18th, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Love this article! Very thorough list. Advil/Motrin is a must, for sure. Sandals for the showers is a great idea too. Don’t forget an extra towel for the shower or for sitting on the grass at the festival, a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face from the sun, sunglasses, chapstick with SPF, face wipes for taking the makeup off quickly at night, and ear plugs (the music can be loud and they can also help you fall asleep at night- if you plan on sleeping!). I just came back from Coachella and it was warm during the day and very cold/windy at night. I suggest packing a light sweater/jacket to throw-on at night. Also, it was very dusty at the festival and campsite and the high winds at night made the dust even worse. A lot of people brought handkerchiefs to shield their face from the dust. If I had to do it all over, I would definitely bring a handkerchief. Also bring shoes that you don’t mind getting dusty, like leather/faux leather boots or booties. Tennies work as well. :)

  2. 2
    April 18th, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    A ROMPER IS A TERRIBLE TERRIBLE IDEA. I have done overnight multi-day music festivals for the past 5 years, and I can tell you, rompers are a great way to get others peoples s*** on your clothes.

    Why?
    Porta-johns:
    Mornings: Puke is just…everywhere
    Afternoon: HOT. VERY HOT. Like a mircowave
    Evening: Overflowing from so much use.

    A romper you have to take all the way down. This is not ideal.

    Also don’t wear sandals. Your feet will get majorly stomped on. I’ve had my foot sprained at least 3 times at fests, and that was with Converse on.

    And if you like to be in a crowd a skirt is a bad idea too. It will ride up, especially if you are dancing hard. Tube top-NO. And invest in a solar shower, its a bag with a hose on it. Fill it with a hose or at a water refill station. Water may be cold, but it’ll save you cash.

  3. 3
    April 18th, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Don’t use a backpack, you will only bump into people, and it is super easy to steal from! Bring cash, and stash it in different pockets (and your socks!). Your cellphone? Stick it in the bra! Or wear a cross-body-bag with a strap that is short enough for you to hide it under a jacket/sweater, for those crowd-moments :)
    Remember sunglasses!

    And: Have fun!

  4. 4
    April 18th, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Just a thought, but I wouldn’t wear a romper to a music festival. It’s not a bathroom friendly piece. Especially since music festivals mainly use port-a-potties…

  5. 5
    April 18th, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Hey! I went to lollapalooza last year and I just want to throw a few things in there:

    1. Honestly, don’t wear a dress. I know we’re all fab and all, but seriously, you’ll have so many potential dress mishaps verses a pair of shorts.

    2. Bring a bandana / headband that you can soak in cold water! It cools you down and it makes the heat feel less bad.

    3. It’s best to wear your hair up / braided because freeflowing hair, although totally adorable, can get really messy and unwieldy. Not to mention hot! Also, you’re all squished in with people, and then people aren’t accidentally eating your hair in the wind, etc.

    Weee! Have fun! I’m saving up for Bonnaroo next year :D

  6. 6
    April 18th, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Great info. Getting ready to attend a music festival in a couple of weeks.

  7. 7
    April 18th, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    some of these comments make an outdoor music festival seem like absolute hell and not worth the trouble. I have never been to one but now I definitely don’t feel like I want to. The first outfit is cute though and I love that the second look includes a fanny pack

  8. 8
    April 19th, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Bethany, I think it depends how hard you go when you’re at the festival. Some people enjoy sitting near the back and listening from the shade. Other’s like to try to get as close to the stage as possible. I think the outfit really depends on how involved you plan on getting with the crowds. But no matter what they truly are a great experience! You get to experience amazing music and meet people from all over the world.

  9. 9
    April 19th, 2013 at 11:18 am

    The last outfit is perfect for the girl who still wants to look chic and be comfortable

  10. 10
    April 21st, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Bring a dollar-store bucket with you. You can fill it up at the spigot and lug it back to your campsite in the morning and wash your hair in it. Having clean hair makes a HUGE difference in the way I feel. And I prefer dresses/skirts instead of shorts or rompers because it’s easier to use the bathrooms without letting your clothes touch anything. I mainly pack black yoga tank tops to wear with skirts because they don’t show dirt or sweat.

  11. 11
    April 22nd, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Bethany, I think it also depends on the festivals you attend or the type of bands you plan to see. The ones I went to weren’t as crowded and there were enough space for me to dance– I was completely fine in my bell-shaped dress. Plus, the outdoor festivals I went to were not far from my home (Northern California, where there are more breeze) so, I didn’t have to shower.

    I would recommend a light sweater, small blanket or a pullover since night time can get a bit chilly in Northern regions in the US during the summer, especially if you’re not standing in a place full of crowded people.

    Bring trail mix or food that don’t spoil easily, most foods from vending places are expensive!

    Safety is also important too!

  12. 12
    April 26th, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    As a two-time Lolla participant, I have some city festival tips:

    1. Don’t wear a romper if you plan on using portajohns. I’ve been walked in on at least 4 times, and you don’t want to be naked when that happens.

    2. Make SURE you are wearing fabrics that are breathable and sweat-friendly. Also, consider wearing a swimsuit underneath, because August in Chicago means heat, and possibly rain.

    3. Don’t bring anything of value. I know you aren’t camping, but the possibility of rain/el thievery is pretty powerful incentive to buy some fake keds and a cheap fanny pack from Target

  13. 13
    May 27th, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    I don’t suggest cross-body bags, especially for the prone-to-sunburners!! I’ve always used cross body bags at festivals and no matter how much sunscreen I reapplied, I had terrible marks from the cross bodies. I’ve also always been annoyed by them while dancing. It’s a purse, why would you want to carry it?! Better off to go with a fanny or waist bag, for SURE!

  14. 14
    June 16th, 2013 at 2:46 am

    Sorry, but wearing rompers to all day music fests=worst idea ever. Remember how annoying it is to have to pee in them in a regular bathroom? Imagine that…in a port-a-potty

  15. 15
    June 18th, 2013 at 12:15 am

    I’ll be going to Watershed by myself this year. Someone told me to freeze a bunch of water bottles to put in the cooler. They act as ice packs, and you’ll need them. I thought it was a great idea to share.

  16. 16
    June 24th, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Love this article! I am going to my first music festival this summer and am doing tons of research as well. TomorrowWorld in Georgia! Romper, as some other folks have said, wouldn’t be ideal bc it will be difficult going to the bathroom. Also, bug spray wouldn’t be a bad idea either! Hope you have fun at your festivals!

  17. 17
    July 21st, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    I like to wear skirts at festivals and always carry an extra hair tie to tie my skirt up when using the gross port-a-potties. Fanny pack is the way to go – no matter how “nerdy” it may seem…you’ll be happy to be practical and hands free and it’s always safely on you not to get lost or stolen…especially great if you like to play hacky-sac. :-)

  18. 18
    September 3rd, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    I really like that you covered so many different aspects and scenarios of outdoor music festivals. I haven’t been to one in a long time and all the suggestions in the article and comments are really helpful! I am also going to Mumford and Sons in Guthrie, and am kind of bummed about the forecast saying highs of 95-97 degrees. I’m still torn between sandals or more substantial shoes, but everyone’s comments about how disgusting the portapotties will be has me leaning towards shoes that cover my feet. Also, to the author, are you Chelsea from The Lost Ogle? I’ve never been on this website before, so sorry if you’ve covered that in the past. Anyways, I love TLO! It has gotten me through SO many slow afternoons/evenings at work!
    Thanks!

  19. 19
    September 4th, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Hey Karen, I am the Chelsea from TLO, haha! I’m so glad you read it!

    I’ll be in Guthrie this Saturday too, and I think I’m going to wear Converse or Vans, mostly because I hate the feeling of dirty feet, I’m worried about the heat too! Hopefully there will be free water stands (I think it might be required by law) that we can splash on our face and hands throughout the day.

    Can’t wait for this weekend!!

  20. 20
    February 7th, 2014 at 5:30 am

    Out here in Singapore (I know) it’s hot ALL the time, so skirts often fare better than shorts. That said, if you’re wearing a skirt, make sure you have substantial underwear/safety shorts. Lying down, playing hackey sack or bouncy castles (yep, we have those at Camp Symmetry) are all painful if you’re trying not to flash your lacy thong.

  21. 21
    February 15th, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    @Jam, idk I find it more comfortable to wear just shorts rather than skirts and safety shorts (especially when I was on that bouncy castle a lot). It will be different though because Camp Symm/Zoukout/Laneway are all non-camping festivals. I’m attending Roskilde Festival (10 days…) over the summer and my friends who have gone before say that skirts are generally a bad idea, especially if you’re short and usually get carried during concerts for better vantage points

  22. 22
    April 6th, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    Lots of festivals have water refill stations. Bring a soft water bottle. When you’re not using it you can roll it up for easy storage or most of them come with a hook for your belt/fanny pack etc. Stay hydrated and be friendly to the environment at the same time!

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