From its explosion in the 1990s to its re-emergence in the 2010s, rave culture has provided kids with an opportunity to escape from the norms of everyday fashion. In the way that outfits are planned in advance to be as different to their usual clothes as possible, ravers today have something in common with their forebears — as do the people outside of the scene who are as outraged now as they were back then. The difference between the generations of then and now is the rave fashion itself; style has moved from phat pants, exposed midriffs, and re-appropriated overalls to furry legwarmers, neon tutus and, well, in some cases not a lot else. The ravers of both eras are and were attending their respective all-night parties at very similar ages, but a lot has changed in mainstream trends and attitudes that makes each scene unique to itself.
Although underground raves had been occurring since the late 70s, the movement did not really take off until the clocked ticked over to the late 80s. It enjoyed its lofty peak in the 90s, where Big DJ names like Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling experienced the heady-beats of the Balearic dance scene in Ibiza and decided to export it to the UK, and soon after things fell into place. At first, the must-have items for party-goers was designer — which soon proved itself to be completely impractical for the ecstasy-tinged dancing that usually lasted all night. Paul Oakenfold himself noticed the change: “Literally overnight, rave fashion took over the high street, and people were interested in dressing down,” he told LA Weekly. Casual styling was more convenient for dancing, so there was a boom in footwear brands like Converse, while baggy t-shirts and jeans became the outfit of choice for many men and women.
The emerging rave culture also found itself in touch with more diverse influences, like the streetwear hip-hop look, which popularised sportswear items like sweatpants and sneakers. Part of what made the scene so appealing was the sense of freedom and acceptability that permeated the attitudes of the youth that attended; if you saw something you liked and wanted to incorporate it into your look, you could. With less style taboos to govern wardrobes, rave was incredibly receptive towards other cultures and made it very easy for trends like streetwear, skate-wear, and surf-wear to, quite literally, join the party. There was also a big hippy aesthetic to be found, with tie-dye, dreadlocks, and cheap plastic jewellery like Kandi bracelets a common sight within the eclectic mix. You can still see the incredible blend of styles in photos taken of rave-goers in the 90s — like the period-traversing shots in this article from Insomniac.
By the mid-to-late 90s, underground raves in the UK were becoming increasingly more difficult to stage as the police began to seriously clamp down on illegal parties and drugs. The movement never really went away, but became dormant in the eyes of the mainstream, and with it went many of the kooky styles that had been embraced a few years before. There were, however, many parts of the era’s fashion that stuck, such as the focus on streetwear as part of the casual outfit. Sweats, sports T-shirts, and sneakers have never really gone away, and are as much a part of mainstream fashion now as they were before. There are still stores, such as Fat Buddha, who are dedicated to finding the latest trends in urban clothing and sharing them with a high-street that is still hungry for streetwear.
From the mid-2000s, a global interest in attending large-scale organised festivals gripped the UK, as well as much of the rest of the world. Big-hitters like Glastonbury, Coachella, and Primavera attract upwards of 100,000 people to locations where they could enjoy a bit of organised hedonism for the weekend. With the popular festivals concentrated in the summer months, and an increasingly relaxed attitude to showing a bit of skin, a new fashion market appeared that became known as festival wear. By 2010, there was again a global interest in dance music, which was this time picked up by the music industry and marketed as Electronic Dance Music (EDM), capturing a worldwide audience and creating a culture where superstar-DJs like David Guetta and Skrillex stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s biggest bands as festival headliners.
It was in the young kids that embraced this new wave of dance music that the term rave was finally dusted off and applied to a new movement — although now it had both of its feet firmly planted in the mainstream. There are now festivals dedicated entirely to the genre, like Electric Daisy Carnival and GlobalGathering, as well as a boost to evergreen parties like Creamfields, which has roots back to the original dance music movement of the 90s. Take a walk around any of these festivals and you can see nods to raves-gone-by: smiley faces, neon Kandi jewellery, and psychedelic prints are all still around, but gone is most of the material that covered what was considered modest at the time. You won’t find many boiler suits, baggy T-shirts, or even whole pairs of pants at most dance music festivals now, with fashion having more in common with beachwear than the clothes worn by old-skool ravers, as you can see from this article from Electric Daisy Carnival exploring women’s fashion at the festival in 2015.
However, one thing remains the same — the willingness to embrace individuality. There may be a big distance in the way that it is expressed, but the anything-goes attitude to fashion that can be found in the DNA of rave culture still lives on. Kids still turn up to these events wanting to escape from their everyday lives in the same way that they did more than 20 years before. They might be wearing less, but they are just as eager to explore the wild side of their style, at least for the long-weekend of a festival.