It’s 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be over, and everyone is itching to see their favorite artists perform for a close-knit crowd of enthusiastic sweaty dancers. Naturally, everyone has a specific “look” that comes to mind when they think about “rave fashion.” Rave fashion is an integral part of the dance music scene. Following the mainstream success of commercial EDM in the 2010s this once niche interest has ballooned into a global multimillion-dollar industry. So where exactly did “Rave fashion” come from? Who were the original ravers? How did an underground subculture explode into the capitalist-influenced giant we experience today with countless small rave fashion brands, large companies with immersive rave-esque permanent store fronts , and elaborate couture-inspired costumes costing hundreds of dollars? When did this craving to dress in your Sunday’s best originate?
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As the music being played at these raves began to evolve with various trends and experimentation, rave fashion was influenced by these changing sounds as well. We can see patterns and trends changing along with time and of course according to location but as dance music expanded and subgenres began popping up all over we can also clearly identify the impact each style has had on each decade.
Maybe “rave fashion” doesn’t really seem like your style and you like to dress functional and comfortable- and you’re not the only one! As a matter of fact, a pair of oversized pants with plenty of pockets to store everything you will need for an all night dance party, like phat pants or your favorite cargo pants are a perfect example of both form and fit. Planning to be comfortable and choosing a functional outfit will not exclude you from fitting in with the rave community.
In the past decade we have seen the elaborate handmade costumes of raves’ past, those one of a kind creations bursting at the seams with radical self expression, become very trendy once again reminiscent of the club kid era of the 80’s & 90’s.
The rave community has always strived to be a place where people are free to be themselves no matter who they are or where they came from. “Rave fashion” is inherently ambiguous as it started and grew in this environment that so fiercely encourages individual self expression, that leaves it to the raver to define rave fashion however they want. Influences from pop culture, drag culture, hip hop trends and more merged with the fundamentals of dance culture can be spotted in the fashion choices ravers have made throughout the decade. The symbiotic relationship between various trends in dance music and the style of the attendees is very distinct.
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Uninhibited self expression isn’t unique to the Rave scene but what is very noteworthy is the diversity of styles and aesthetics that are witnessed throughout the scene. A lot of these looks will never go out of style, and although popular trends change overtime and across borders, the non-judgemental core of the community allows everyone to feel included and comfortable being their most authentic self (while dressing the part!). After all, they do say strangers become friends on the dancefloor.
After all the glitter had been swept off the floor of Studio 54 in the early 80’s, house music started to emerge in the city of Chicago. Chicago house music took elements from the previous decade combining disco and soul with funky beats during the DJ Frankie Knuckles era. House music rapidly grew in popularity blessing us with the wonderful gift of acid house. This created a desire to leave the glamorous disco attire behind and adapt to the industrial, underground, psychedelic atmosphere that was found at acid house parties.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, rave fashion was all about standing out and causing a scene. The narrative really started changing as the New York Club Kid mixed with the rave scene. The New York underground scene consisted of parties hosted by original club kid members, James st James, Michael Alig, Julie Jewels. Even Ru Paul was an OG Club Kid. The rave scene at this time provided a safe place for the LGBTQ+ community to express their creative, and eccentric side. DIY costumes that were inspired by goth, cyber, drag, bondage and circus themed makeup pushed boundaries and turned heads for being extravagant and unique. Today, those legendary looks are still a source of inspiration for rave fashion today.
The World Wide Web was in the common household in the early 90‘s and had a huge impact on the electronic dance music scene. More people than ever were getting word of the next party. This new way to connect with likeminded ravers across the globe led to the evolution of the extravagant 90’s rave kid fashion that we all know and admire. Yes, there have been many trends that have come and gone since then but cybergoth and kandi kid fashion is still very prominent on the dancefloor today.
Futuristic influences were seen in artists like The Crystal Method, Prodigy and with that came lots of gel, spiked hair, goth platform boots, PVC and pops of neon on all black outfits. These cyberpunk aesthetics harmoniously combined with the harder industrial EDM that was being born at the time.
Depending on which coast you were on, your understanding and involvement in rave fashion could vary. Kandi Kid culture was still going strong in LA in the 90’s but on the east coast sport, utility and casual streetwear was the preferred style. Following the trend of neon colors and self expression was a common denominator across the U.S. but each region had their own influences that made their style of rave fashion unique.
In Los Angeles, kandi kid culture, which is still a very prominent influence of rave fashion today, was just coming on to the scene. Young SoCal natives were immersed in hip hop culture in the 90’s but with the rise of all night underground parties in Southern California ravers would assemble their tracksuits or baggy pants together with neon form fitting tank tops, and large handmade kandi to complete their unique rave outfit.
Rave fashion in the 90’s was about letting your inner child show through your choice in outfits. Plush backpacks, pacifiers on kandi necklaces and P.L.U.R. took over on the west coast and the rave scene has not been the same since. Hip hop culture in Los Angeles during this time heavily influenced the style of the city as a whole but when ravers combined that with P.L.U.R. and kandi kid culture it created a look unique to southern California.
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After the internet was fully integrated in our lives we experienced a massive EDM boom. As more and more parties were popping up, raving became more accepted. The vibrant and animated styles of the 90’s slowly started to fade and spending hours hand making your outfits was getting more expensive and time consuming as ravers started attending parties more often. Function, as a priority, was making a comeback but this time with a hip hop twist. Low rise, oversized pants with an old Adidas t-shirt and chunky sneakers was the rave fashion aesthetic of that time..
During the early 2000’s, Electronic Dance Music hit the commercial market with the help of huge artists like Deadmau5, Daft Punk, Tiesto, Paul Van Dyk, and other mega DJ’s. Events companies like Insomniac, Ultra and Tomorrowland started throwing larger events to accommodate the rapidly growing fanbase. Coachella 2006 was the turning point in electronic dance music as it gave non ravers a taste of the rave. Deadmau5, Justice, and Fatboy Slim playing Coachella connected the average festival attendee to electronic dance music. In the next coming years massive after massive began to take over as new events were being announced every month.
In the late 2000’s, 2 day festivals with multiple stages were on the rise. Functionality became more important than ever. Spending all day in the sun, doing party drugs and dancing for hours changed what people chose to wear and bring to events. Camelbacks which have evolved into colorful hydration packs started to become the staple at raves.
Calvin Harris, Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, and David Guetta were some of the biggest names in commercial EDM at this time. Large scale multi day festivals were almost every other weekend and the American youth was eating it up! Festivals across the country and world wide are being live streamed and if you’re not in attendance you are most likely watching the stream or planning your next festival.
The local SoCal community of ravers that Pasquale Rotella gathered for all night theatrics, costumes, big room house and carnival rides made its way to Las Vegas in 2011 after two years of Insomniac’s most iconic festivals to this date, EDC Los Angeles, at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2009 and 2010. The move from Los Angeles to Las Vegas caused a lot of uproar in the dance music community but one thing everyone was for sure of was that this was going to be the place to pull out all the stops when it came to curating your rave outfit. Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas is still to this day one of the largest dance music festivals in the U.S. and brings in ravers from all over the world. EDC Is filled with large-scale glow in the dark art installations, performers and dancers in the most eye-catching costumes, and ravers who match the theme and energy with their outfit, from dusk till dawn.
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As the next decade approached, the time for function was out the window, it was time to dazzle the crowd and let your unique creativity and confidence shine through your outfit. EDCLV was a circus filled with girls in tutu’s and rave bras, holographic and neon, sequins and face gems and everything in between. The more the better. Guys would even step out in bright colored tank tops and shirts with psychedelic images or silly phrases on them. In the mid to late 2010’s the energy was uplifting and the rainbow filled crowd was beaming.
Fashion is now part of the rave culture and experience just as much as the music. People want to dress to impress. Ravers prepare for events and festivals like they are preparing for the Met Gala. The cost of event tickets are rising and ravers are finding themselves spending large amounts of time and money planning elaborate, custom, and flash costumes for a one time wear at large festivals. It takes a lot of planning and effort to attend a large EDM festival so you might as well look like you run the place!
As the dance music industry grew, business minded ravers saw an opportunity to profit off of the scene and its unique fashions and rave fashion brands emerged. I Heart Raves alongside E-mazing Lights began solidifying the specific raver aesthetic that we see during this time and still today. Flow toys and LED gloves quickly became an essential part of many ravers outfits.
After EDC Las Vegas got a few years under its belt and more and more events were popping up, a huge, cult-like, fan base was about to turn everything upside down with the rise of festival trap, called “HDYNATION”. This style of rave fashion was not influenced by hip hop but rather fully incorporated the hip hop culture into this new trend.
Chicago based trap duo, Flosstradamus, combined gangster rap with trap beats that made you want to act up. They incorporated warning signs with white on black logos and bold text in their merchandise. Drawing inspiration from Chicago thrift stores, filled with vintage hip hop and urban pieces. This new era of rave fashion heavily clashed with the psychedelic, colorful, neon fashions that were taking over the rave fashion market at the same time. The “King of Streetwear” himself, Virgil Abloh, collaborated with the duo on set design for their HDYNATION Tour in 2014. This collaboration between hip hop and electronic music set the wheels in motion for the rise of EDM branded jerseys, dark themes, and the rough around the edges look that we see today in the dubstep and bass scene.
Designer fashion and expensive rave outfits became more sought after throughout the rise of Burning Man in the mainstream. Other transformative festivals like Desert Hearts and the Glitter Spies Fashion Show featured handmade colorful sequin festival coats lined with fur and bedazzled captain hats, with feathers with crystals and jewelry. This aesthetic is all about disco, house music, self expression and DIY.
Multimillion dollar fashion companies that cater to rave, cyber, techno and alternative styles are growing rapidly. Fashion plays a very important role in the scene today and rave fashion brands no matter how big or small, heavily rely on influencers to be able to curate a look, create content and share it with their online followers to increase sales. Although this takes away from the individuality that is so unique to rave fashion, many ravers are picking up new skills and continuing to create their custom looks so they stand out from the crowd. With each brand being the main source of festival fashion in the industry, the creativity and flare that comes with making your own outfit is becoming more and more important. Who wants to go out and see 10 clones of yourself at an event?
There are new small rave fashion brands on your explore page regularly but for the most part the evolution of rave fashion has slowed down with the rise of fast fashion. Large rave fashion brands that have been called out for copying small designers on countless occasions also contribute to the plateau of rave fashion. The older generation of ravers are now choosing to spend their money on high quality alternative fashion or designer pieces that they can add to their growing collection of clothes. You will see hints of past trends like kandi kid culture, cyberpunk, go-go, and everything in between at large festivals but the younger generation is struggling to bring new and exciting ideas to the masses.
Techno is now the mainstream genre. With events like Factory 93, Drumcode and large scale techno festivals like Movement Festival in Detroit ravers have adapted goth aesthetics with a rave twist, if they end up planning a look for the event. Cargo joggers are being favored over sequin bell bottoms. Styling a simple black crop top with lots of chains is going to give you less problems than a rave bra you hot glued gems on the night before. Leather harnesses, chain necklaces with Demonias are the go to accessories of today. House and techno made its way back to the warehouse and wearing all black is sort of like the unspoken rule these days for your average post pandemic raver.
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The current state of rave fashion teeters on the edge of less is more and expensive one of a kind looks that you’ll wear once. As we have seen in the past new trends pop up all the time, fade away, and circle back in a new way. With gen-z adapting the Y2K aesthetic, the relaxed and reliable rave fashions from the 2000’s are sure to resurface. Dance music culture is forever evolving, therefore rave fashion will follow suit but the constant has always been, no matter who you are or where you came from raves are a place where you can feel free to wear what you want, express yourself and have fun with your outfits and the definition of rave fashion is however you choose to define it.