This weekend, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival once again darkens our Instagram doorstep. And as we all know, “Coachella style” has become its own cottage industry, and its louche bohemian fashion signifiers have been codified in our popular imagination by a million Instagrams and street style slideshows. For women, this is straightforward: denim cutoffs; lace crop tops; open-weave knit cardigans that slouch toward some magnetic center and threaten to fall apart with the next hot wind; brimmed hats. There is a vague Southwestern theme, or what festivalgoers think of as Southwestern, which often means an unfortunate Native American drag, with untoward amounts of leather fringe, piled-on silver jewelry, and feathers.
For men, as with most things men do, all of this is much worse.
The patron saint of men’s style at Coachella is John Mayer (Jared Leto thinks he is, and is wrong). It’s unclear when Mayer last attended Coachella, but his influence has had a certain trickle-down effect, and not in the best way. With his famous and famously expensive affection for the brand Visvim, which excels in delivering an Americana free-spiritedness filtered through the Japanese sieve of good taste, Mayer can be considered the festival dressing lodestar for men. Mayer looks good in Visvim because he channels a rough-hewn bonhomie, but it’s as though the John Mayer look has mutated into license for men to do whatever, which has made recent Coachella installments look more like the Village Halloween Parade meets a Thirty Seconds to Mars sound check. Last year, there was an unsettling number of men photographed wearing clear vinyl shower curtains, or unitards, or Stephen King ayahuasca nightmares.
These are more likely than not members of the weirdo tribe of men who sit in wait for the merest whisper of a hint of some occasion to be weird in public. These types favor the below:
Things that should be worn with shirts but aren’t.
Shirts that should have sleeves but don’t.
Things that are in fact not clothes but blankets.
Overalls worn without a shirt, sometimes with one strap undone.
Coachella is also, apparently, a cultural-appropriation DMZ, with men freely wearing things that would get them shouted down in polite society.
Street style has conditioned people to dress for a narrow window of attention. The festival-fashion pipeline—with Coachella, which grossed $114 million last year, as its hub—represents too much money and too many good vibes to stop now. Is that a bad thing? Who can say? The sun will come out in Indio this weekend, and if you’ll be there, you should wear what you like. Everyone else will.