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Please Stop Buying Disco Cowboy Hats: Concert Outfit Culture and Fast Fashion

Taylor Swift performing "Look What You Made Me Do" on her Eras Tour this summer.
Taylor Swift performing "Look What You Made Me Do" on her Eras Tour this summer. By Ronald Woan / Wikimedia Commons
By Daniel T. Liu, Contributing Writer

Few individuals are single-handedly responsible for air pollution. Taylor Swift begs to differ. Between her carbon emissions from the regular use of a private jet to the ninety trucks she allegedly commissioned to transport her stage across North America during the Eras tour, she is no stranger to environmental damage. Still, her longest-lasting impact might not be directly hers. In order to have the perfect outfit to attend her shows, Swift’s fans have leaned into a trend of extravagant fast fashion. With a country of concert-goers inspired to dress the part, Swift has played her part in establishing a new wave of outrageous concert outfits, as seen with how attire inspired by her albums has remained a viral trend throughout 2023. From Swift and beyond, the obsession with showing out for their favorite artist has caused fans to turn to fast fashion.

Because it isn’t just Swift; Beyoncé’s widely publicized Renaissance wardrobe of mirrorballs and hand-beaded crystals, as well as her special birthday wish for fans to wear fabulous silver outfits, ushered in incredible consumer sales of metallic and chrome attire. This trend of excessively on-theme and one-time outfits has established a grip on mainstream concerts. In other words, it’s become a norm to purchase unique pieces that would never make sense in your everyday closet.

For concert-goers, these fashion choices can become a break from reality: They allow them to escape into the fantasy of their favorite artist, supported and celebrated by a community of fellow fans. Viral TikToks of crazy outfit inspiration egg on these choices, and post-concert Instagram posts showing off their looks satisfy fans’ desire to belong. There’s pressure and an expectation to deliver. This need to fit in by staying on theme with exorbitant, infrequently worn garments, however, can lead to some unintentional consequences.

While elaborate concert attire is excellent for radical self-expression and community building, the kinds of elaborate outfits these fans seek out are offered by only a few vendors at an affordable price point. Take SHEIN for example: If a member of the Beyhive is after a shiny, chrome, lace-up corset top for their night at the Renaissance tour, there is a limited number of places that have the unique style they want. There are even fewer selling it for less than 15 dollars.

Fast fashion companies design themselves to be perfectly accessible to these buyers. They offer an extreme variety of trendy items that would otherwise be impossible to find at lower price points. Unfortunately, these goods do not come guilt-free. Reflective metal sunglasses with thorns, disco cowboy hats, and holographic chain body harnesses don’t lend themselves to be marketable at low prices if a company is trying to develop sustainable production processes and ethical labor practices.

For most of these concert-goers, the benefit of having a cheap and fantastic outfit outweighs the consideration of pollution that happens in a factory a thousand miles away. Being in such a large community of fans all doing the same thing only gives fans justification for the action and excuses the environmental impact.

Influencers will continue to ramp up this concert fashion culture, endorsing more and more elaborate costumes. Fast fashion brands, in turn, will continue to adapt to this audience, selling more and draining more water, energy, labor, and land. These outfits embody the worst in consumerism: needless, endless spending on excessive goods in the pursuit of satisfaction.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Fans shouldn’t have to choose between a social-media-worthy outfit and their morals — there should be a platform for sustainability, even in extravagant fashion spaces, and concert-goers are creating these spaces.

Some fans are turning to alternatives such as second-hand markets like Poshmark or thrift stores — as well as trying their hand at creating their own unique pieces. These choices are easy and rewarding, consisting of anything from bedazzling their dresses to finding those unique one-of-a-kind Y2K pieces that would be perfectly on theme.

This approach not only lessens the reliance on extremely wasteful production systems, but it also saves old goods that haven’t been worn from being thrown away. On TikTok, a Beyoncé fan showed how she upcycled a pair of jean shorts with rhinestones, creating a beautiful, on-theme item she was proud to wear for the tour. There’s a love in creating your own outfit for your favorite artist’s performance. These sustainable practices only bring concert-goers closer to the community.

Concerts, spectacles of pop culture and entertainment, have of late become performances of both the artist and the audience. Still, the urge for novelty and being “extra” in attending a concert doesn’t have to be incompatible with sustainability, and it can even create even stronger community ties: Handmade or secondhand goods give fans a much larger say in their self-expression and can be a common journey fans can embark on. Indeed, concert culture’s future with these surreal outfits isn’t bound to landfills. There’s room for sustainability, even in the space of the fantastical.

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