Not even in his most far off Frankenstein-inspired fantasies could Michael Eavis have envisaged the monster he was creating when he decided to organise the first Pilton Festival in the hippy sunset of 1970. Some 40 years later, the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts has been transformed into a "lost weekend" of revelry and celebration in honour of contemporary music, dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret and, yes, fashion. While remaining "all about the music, man," the world's media has increasingly taken an interest in the garb worn by the plethora of famous A-list attendees aspiring to appear effortlessly cool.
Fashion may be last on the list of event attractions, but its pervasive impact on Glastonbury has even been turning grass-munching bovine heads in the nearby fields. Glastonbury has always been a place for experimentation in every way imaginable and fashion is no exception. Whether it be riding boots or the "de rigueur" Wellington, prom dresses worn with trainers, tie-dye burlap tops, "ethno-tat" ponchos or nu-rave day-glo accessories, the freedom to make a complete fool of yourself in the name of fashion has always been a positive aspect of the Glastonbury experience.
|Kate Moss at Glastonbury Festival in 2005.
But being able to rock-up in anything that took your fancy is over (unless your name is Iggy Pop); the event has now taken on the slightly self-conscious sheen of vanity with people watching other people to see if they are watching them. Thankfully most of those afflicted with this kind of insecurity are peopled by the demi-gods of modern society, otherwise known as celebrities.
Ever since Kate Moss, the lynch pin of British fashion, turned up at the 2005 festival sporting her Hunter wellies and micro shorts combo while hanging off the arm of her Libertines rock 'n' roll boyfriend Pete Doherty, the fashion bar has been raised and now Glastonbury is a legitimate part of the "trend" industry's calendar. Whereas in years prior, festival goers would check the weather report before throwing a minimal amount of appropriate clothing into a duffel bag, nowadays it's more of a case of "day wear/night wear" coordinated dressing whilst stylists get paid overtime to ensure celebrities don't end up with mud on their faces.
It has to be said that the majority of the 150,000 crowd who flock to the weekend festival are more concerned about surviving portable toilets, foot fungus and sleeping under a canvas teepee than being fashionable. In the words of Guardian fashion columnist Hadley Freeman, "There is no 'look'. There is only 'warmth' and 'ease' of disrobing for Portaloo emergencies, and somewhere within the Venn diagram of those two considerations lies your festival wardrobe."
On the other hand, celebrities don't have much to worry about apart from being photographed in an outfit and various VIP wristbands that will add kudos to their rock chic credentials. From Vogue to Elle, right down to the ravenous UK red top tabloids, there is an insatiable appetite for Glastonbury fashion that even pushes the music into the background - well, almost.
Beyoncé gained a great deal of media attention at last year's festival as she sung in a shimmy of sequins. However, her headline spot was occasionally stolen by Brit celebs (such as Alexa Chung, the new Queen of Glasto) and their penchant for timeless fashion with a practical twist - provided by the likes of Burberry, Mulberry and Barbour. The fashion world has entwined itself into Glastonbury culture like a golden thread, forming a hearty well-worn and mud-caked rug, and giving the annual event a little extra surface shizzle.
The Glastonbury Festival and fashion make odd bedfellows, mainly because the former is surrounded by the unyielding legend of Albion spiritual mythology while the latter is as deep as a muddy puddle and a quintessential product of the material world. As Dion Fortune wrote in her book Glastonbury: Avalon in the Heart, "Glastonbury is not only deep-rooted in the past, but the past lives on at Glastonbury. All about us it stirs and breathes, quiet, but living and watching." Even so, it could be argued that within the modern world, celebrities are the "high priests" of fashion that influence an attitude and perception by material rather than spiritual means, adding a profane twist to the more sacred proceedings.
It's easy to forget that among the mega-PA systems, light shows and temporary bank machines, Glastonbury was also a place of counter-culture and activism that has it roots firmly embedded in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and green and alternative lifestyle movements. Some may say it has been commodified and its spiritual essence diluted, but although the festival may not be London Fashion Week's official weekend decampment to the south west of England, it does offer a sense of freedom for one to explore the weather-resistant capacities of a pair of Jimmy Choo wellies.
Rumour has it that those granddads of rock 'n' roll, the Rolling Stones, will be headlining Glastonbury 2013, so get ready for the Anita Pallenberg/Marianne Faithfull style revival next summer.
Sign up to receive a weekly dispatch from
The Genteel unearths the forces shaping global fashion and design through the lens of business, culture, society and best kept secrets.
A worldwide collective of contributors currently form The Genteel. On a daily basis our team dispatches thought-provoking and insightful articles from the streets of Oslo, Toronto, Beirut, Moscow, United Arab Emirates, Seoul and beyond.