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Coterie Couture: Rave fashion embraces individualism through bold, eclectic styles

Rave Wonderland offers vibrant looks for the modern day EDM and festival scene. The subculture was initially an underground space of social liberation and inclusivity, which eventually melded with electronic music and grew to what it is today. (Courtesy of Vinnie Rossiello)

By Natalie Brown

Oct. 28, 2021 8:14 p.m.

What someone wears speaks volumes about who they are as a person, and the same can be said for the styles associated with various movements and cultures. As a cyclical art form, fashion – and its attached politics – almost always reemerges from the past. Follow columnist Natalie Brown in “Coterie Couture” as she chronologically explores the impact of different subcultures and their corresponding fashion each week.

(Jade Ichimura/Daily Bruin)
(Jade Ichimura/Daily Bruin)

A subculture rooted in fun and inclusivity is all the rave nowadays.

From the ’90s to today, the rave scene has dominated the festival space. Charged with elements of both psychedelia and rock music, culture journalist Nelson C.J said the original rave scene was defined by the variety of drugs being passed around, loud EDM music blasting and lights flashing in every direction. This space was meant to evoke a sense of otherworldliness, providing attendees with an out-of-body experience.

“(Going to a rave) is not like going to a club,” C.J said. “This is a place where you’re supposed to literally go wild, have as much fun as you can and really just float away from whatever’s going on.”

These fantastical sentiments were echoed by the original demographics of the rave scene – queer, Black and other marginalized groups who were able to find a safe haven from the mainstream discriminatory political regulations in rave culture, he said. As a result of this oppression, raves were often held illegally in empty warehouses and other open spaces, fostering an idea of liberation and freedom from rules and conventions.

(Courtesy of Vinnie Rossiello)
A figure is shown wearing a mystical outfit characterized by pom-poms and pastel blue. Vinnie Rossiello said this is in line with the current free-spirited and imaginative characteristics of rave-wear. (Courtesy of Vinnie Rossiello)

[Related: Coterie Couture: Grunge aesthetic continues its rebellious legacy with younger generations]

The individualism of the space is reflected in rave culture’s music as well, particularly through the strong ties between EDM and raves. EDM encompasses many different genres – like house and dubstep – but can be broadly defined by its synthesizer-driven and percussion-focused beats, said Thomas Hanslowe, former teaching assistant of Musicology 8: “History of Electronic Dance Music.” These electronic beats were the soundtrack to the ’90s rave scene, he said, where both ravers and the music they listened to were questioned.

As long ago as that initial scene was, rave culture and its associated imagery have never really gone away, Hanslowe said. Rather, it has morphed into a mega culture of devoted EDM listeners and free spirits, transcending its original underground roots. In this transformation, however, the culture inevitably lost some of its original flare and excitement, he said.

“There’s this interesting move away from raves – something actively illegal that you’d have to do all these elaborate things to avoid getting caught by the police – to Coachella and (other large festivals) that (have) managed to take that energy of these big raves and turn it into something legal and profitable,” Hanslowe said.

It is in modern spaces like these big-name festivals where the fashion and cultural elements of rave begin to meld. On the fashion side, rave culture can be defined by its free-spirited, imaginative clothing combinations of pieces that one probably wouldn’t wear anywhere else but at a rave, said Vinnie Rossiello, marketing manager of Rave Wonderland. Pulling from areas of pop culture and animated entertainment and pairing bold patterns with solid neutral colors, ravers’ clothing combinations are extraordinarily diverse, he said.

Though rave fashion does have an outlandish, psychedelic quality to it, the pieces inspired by its novelty have successfully crossed over into the mainstream fashion industry, Rossiello said. Harnesses, which have roots in the circuit party and rave communities, have become a popular item on red carpets. These pieces are being worn by celebrities ranging from Madonna, who can frequently be seen sporting a strappy, leather-clad harness, to Adam Rippon, who wore a Jeremy Scott harness-inspired suit to the 2018 Oscars. Rossiello said the popularization of baggy-style JNCO jeans was also inspired by the ’90s rave scene, alongside creative and colorful hair braiding techniques, seen on celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj.

(Courtesy of Vinnie Rossiello)
Neon elements, strappy details and studded leather also characterize modern rave-wear. Although originally an underground movement, rave has entered the popular sphere, with elements such as harnesses appearing on recent red carpets. (Courtesy of Vinnie Rossiello)

[Related: Coterie Couture: Glam rock flaunts extravagance, persists in modern ideas of superstardom]

Rave fashion pieces are characteristically a form of self-expression, communicating an individual’s liberation from societal conventions, Rossiello said. But more importantly, rave fashion is a means to protest these conventions at their roots, making the resurgence of such thematic elements especially relevant given today’s political climate. By wearing a variety of nonmatching patterns and colored fashion pieces, ravers are showing their disregard for convention and following the norm.

“Raves have always been a very subtle way of protesting or making a statement, and there’s no denying that the past decade, if not more, has been very contentious,” Rossiello said. “There’s been a lot of different reasons where people have felt the need to speak out or express themselves, and the fashion just reminds people of that statement.”

The amplified desire to express oneself is a product of the pandemic, but the shift towards a post-COVID-19 world only has positive connotations for the future of rave culture. Rossiello said because of the pandemic, society now possesses a desire to embrace every moment as it comes and live life to the fullest – an opinion that wasn’t necessarily as widespread before. There is also an overwhelming sense of nostalgia associated with the genre that, when combined with the plight of the pandemic, makes people all the more excited to have fulfilling life experiences, C.J said.

“(The pandemic) had people holed up in their houses for months – some years,” C.J said. “That kind of environment always gets people hyped up to party, wanting to gather in certain spaces and explore different ways of being able to express joy. (Rave) culture really provides a (perfect) outlet (for this).”

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