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The Evolution of Rave Fashion

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Thu, Jan 30, 2014 at 4:00 AM
click to enlarge '90s ravers - MICHAEL TULLBERG
  • Michael Tullberg
  • '90s ravers
When deciding what to wear to a rave, it helps first to consider your objective: Do you want to look hot? Dress for the weather? Express your personal style?

Or should your outfit simply complement the drugs you plan to do?

Since raves kicked off in late-1980s England, fashion trends have gone through countless evolutions. In the early '90s, you wouldn't have looked out of place in Doc Martens, denim overalls and a dust mask lined with Vicks VapoRub. Nowadays you wouldn't look crazy in neon lingerie combined with Native American headdress.

See also: Hilarious Raver Photos From the '90s

The oft-gaudy, dizzying convergence of styles - borrowed from sources as varied as cartoon characters, Rastafarianism, the goth scene and '70s psychedelic culture - seem random and arbitrary on their face. In fact, rave fashion has evolved alongside the scene itself, which was driven in its first days by American house music, ecstasy and the influence of Ibiza's club scene.

British DJ powerhouses Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling and Nicky Holloway are given credit for helping to popularize the music and ethos of the early underground rave scene. They took their first hits of ecstasy in the summer of 1987, while on vacation together in Ibiza. The euphoric, throbbing beats of the Spanish island's unique DJ sound - called Balearic, and combining styles such as early house music, Europop and upbeat rock - suddenly made more sense on drugs. The three men pledged then and there to bring their experience back to England.

Oakenfold and Rampling opened electronic music clubs, and Holloway started a venue focused on psychedelic-tinged subgenre acid house. Ecstasy, though illegal, was tolerated, and the scene inspired a change in typical nightclub fashion.

At the time, many clubbers wore designer garb. "The goal was to stand at the bar and look cool," Oakenfold says now from his Los Angeles home. But designer duds gave way to Converse sneakers and oversized tees, which were more conducive to sweating and dancing the night away on ecstasy. "Literally overnight, rave fashion took over the high street, and people were interested in dressing down," he says.

By 1989, the new chic club look was baggy and colorful - visually stimulating for folks who were high. Kids wore overalls, smiley-face T-shirts, paisley and tie-dye. Toy whistles and bright plastic beads replaced fine jewelry, as club style went from bourgeoisie to bohemian, drawing influences from the dressed-down clubbers of Ibiza and Summer of Love psychedelic imagery.

click to enlarge '90s ravers - MICHAEL TULLBERG
  • Michael Tullberg
  • '90s ravers
But venues couldn't stay open all night, so the club kids moved to abandoned buildings, airplane hangars and open fields. When the rave scene spread to America, U.K. transplants brought their ostentatious garb to the first raves in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

California soon became an important rave hub, one where a new style began to dominate: Hip-hop-influenced kids introduced Adidas shell toes and baggy sweatpants, with colorful surf- and streetwear mixing in.

See also: Our slideshow of '90s rave fashions

"You'd get kids who would come for the hip-hop and funk ... the good-looking surfer guys and chicks, and then you had all the arts and fashion community," recalls Steve Levy, who in the early '90s ran a popular club night called Truth at the Park Plaza Hotel in Westlake.

During that time, an artsy student who attended these parties started creating graphic tees. Rick Klotz's company, Freshjive, parodied popular corporate branding; one shirt substituted "Truth" in the Tide detergent logo, while other works put a spin on Twister, Crayola and 7-Eleven's Big Gulp. "Freshjive, outside of Stussy, was the most important early-'90s brand that was touching rave wear and streetwear," says Raymond Roker, founder of URB magazine.

Surf and skate companies like Clobber, Quiksilver and Conart got in on the action, too, catering to ravers with bright, loose-fitting logo gear. Boutiques like Beat Non Stop began popping up on Melrose, offering extreme wide-leg JNCO pants. NaNa in Santa Monica had the chunky Converse sneakers and Doc Martens.

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