Raves are an interesting party phenomenon. The electronic soundscapes were made famous as hedonistic rebellions against the administrations of Thatcher and Reagan, but the party style has never truly gone out of vogue. Today, raves are still being held around the world on a regular basis, and their symbolism seems to evolved somewhat. What was originally a symbol for anti-establishment philosophy has changed into an apparent embrace of materialist values, having spawned a sprawling fashion scene and party atmosphere that has permeated the rest of the music scene and culture beyond.
Clothing at raves was originally solely practical in design. Ravers would wear what was comfortable and easy to dance in, so athletic clothing was usually the garb of choice. Things like sweatpants, oversized t-shirts, sneakers, and headbands were what the typical rave outfit was comprised of, at least at first. As raves at their origin were mainly focused to the gay community, the fashion was mostly masculine. However, as the popularity of raves spread across nations and different demographics, women would come to leave their mark on the fashion scene.
While rave clothes women and men wear has varied wildly over the decades, there are a few core fashion tenets that define the style of clothing. Things like iridescent coloring and a generally eclectic collection of patterns are two markers of rave fashion. One theme that clearly defines rave fashion as well is the tendency to dressers to want to stand out. Outfits pop and crackle against one another with loud colors and patterns, and underneath it all lies a controversial amount of skin being bared. That’s not to say that rave outfits haven’t retained that core trait of being pragmatic, though - raves get hot.
Women’s rave outfits today tend to retain that core pragmatism while also trying to stand out and lean into free expression. Much attention has been called to the rather free-spirited nature of rave and festival outfits. Women tend to show a lot of skin at these events, and while this is again due partially to the heat and high activity level, it would be foolish to suggest that this was the only influencer at play. Raves also have a distinct lack of inhibition giving off an easy going friendly atmosphere.
Women’s rave fashion is mesmerizing and eye catching. Loud outfits with striking patterns can be highly stimulating for those who choose to be high. Women’s rave wear has been working with music and colorful illuminations to make raves as sensory-stimulating as possible for decades. Women sport intricate henna designs in striking dark ink, wear neon clothing and glow-in-the-dark face paint, and even dance with light-up hula hoops. Rave gloves are another accessory which has come about as a result of women’s rave fashions - it’s all about being seen and being a focus of someone’s scattered attention span, if only for a moment.
Going to a rave as a newbie these days can be an incredibly overwhelming experience, as looking from person to person can be as disorienting as trading your reading glasses for a pair of kaleidoscopes. That seems to be the goal, however, as rave outfits are worn to celebrate. Detailed makeup and even prosthetics can make raves sometimes feel like a unique sort of comic-con or LARP session, as people seem to be so dedicated to their outfits. Oftentimes, people spend a lot of time and effort on their rave ensembles - the internet is chock-full of online communities dedicated to rave clothing. Hundreds of Pinterests and Instagram accounts are focused on user-generated rave outfit ideas and designs.
Designers have also made their mark in both the rave world and through it. Dolls Kill, the rave clothing company, has made its mark on the world by being the clothing of choice for e-girls. What are e-girls, you ask? Basically, your average e-girl posts pictures of themselves in heavy makeup and erratic, often revealing, outfits. Belle Delphine is a famous example of an e-girl, though many don’t post content which as quite as lewd as that of Miss Delpine. Either way, Dolls Kill has captured the ideology of the e-girl movement, which is loud, stylized, and above-all: nonchalant. Rave clothing is at its core completely free from societal judgement. Overalls with a golf visor? Sure, why not. A tapestry tied in a toga? Absolutely. A headdress worn on top of a Mexican flag? … Well … That brings us to another topic.
Many rave outfits today can bring in cultural influences from around the world, a detail which has stirred controversy around largely white rave-goers sporting headdresses. The term that has come to mind for many is cultural appropriation, as white girls dress up for a day in someone else’s culture. While the intention of these party people is obviously just to celebrate and have a good time, many have been offended by the apparent disrespect displayed by festival-goers and e-girls alike. Many of these wannabe influencers utilize whatever they can to stand out, and most of them are white. So, is rave culture what’s the problem, or is it just another movement being appropriated by negative people?
It’s likely the latter, as is the case with most of these controversial instances. Rave fashion is innocent of who wears it and who makes it - it’s just a label we affix to a clothing style that is ever-changing and constantly impressing. Whether you’re an avid party-goer or not, it’s likely that you own some clothing pieces that wouldn’t look out of place at a rave or festival. That just goes to show that while raves don’t attract everyone, their cultural outreach has been far and wide, and will likely continue to be so for quite some time.