The Deeper Meaning Behind Music Festival Beauty Through the Ages

Photo: Getty

In the last week alone, the Byrdie edit team has received over four dozen emails from beauty publicists pitching makeup, hair, and skincare products that beauty lovers simply "must have" for music festival season. Take a quick scan at any of our inboxes, and you'll find them chockablock with enthusiastic plugs for "flamboyant unicorn hair tints," "exclusive Coachella-inspired palettes," and a refreshing one-ounce face mist advertised as "the perfect size to bring right up to the stage." The first-ever Coachella was held in 1999, a humble, single-day event headlined by Rage Against the Machine. The sun was hot, the plumbing was minimal, and there were no "flamboyant unicorn hair tints" in sight. But in the years since, as music festivals have exploded in popularity, their corresponding beauty trends have morphed into a NYFW-level monster of their own. Festival season lasts roughly from March to August, beginning with Austin's South by Southwest, lasting through the spring with Coachella, New York's Governors Ball, and Tennessee's Bonnaroo, and ending in the summer with Lollapalooza in Chicago and Outside Lands in San Francisco. That's a lot of music to take in. But as of the early 2010s, how you do your hair and makeup for these affairs has become more important than who's playing.

Say the phrase "music festival beauty," and a few unmistakable images come to mind: flower crowns, glittery eye makeup, rainbow braids, sometimes (though hopefully not so much anymore) a culturally questionable headdress or bindi. Brands like Sephora and Riley Rose have been known to release brightly colored, bohemian-themed products and beauty packages specifically marketed for Coachella. Since when did festival beauty become so over-the-top, you might wonder? And what did it used to look like back when music festivals were still about the music? As it turns out, the evolution of music festival looks has everything to do with the history of American counterculture itself.