Hanging in Khloé Lewis’ closet is a shimmering lavender party dress with a single puffed sleeve, a bedazzled mini dress with matching cowboy hat, and a rose-colored shirt. She wore these items to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour, and the Barbie movie, respectively. For Lewis, a 29-year-old PR professional, dressing up made the experience even better.
“It’s always fun to have a reason to dress up in something that’s outside of your norm,” she told TIME.
Lewis isn’t alone. This summer, concert and moviegoers showed up in themed regalia. For Barbie, attendees donned all shades of pink, from a shocking magenta to more demure hues of bubblegum. At the Eras Tour, Swifties paid homage with sparkles, bright colors, and friendship bracelets. Meanwhile, fans wore disco-inspired clubwear in silver and black, accessorizing with rhinestone-encrusted cowboy hats and boots, to Beyoncé’s Club Renaissance. And with Swift and Beyoncé both dropping concert movies, it appears that the costume party that was 2023 shows no sign of stopping.
Fashion historian and assistant curator of fashion at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Darnell-Jamal Lisby agrees, saying that the outsize showing of themed dressing this summer could be a reflection of the freedom people craved after the pandemic.
“Post-pandemic, people want to be free to be their authentic selves,” Lisby told TIME. “People want to have fun with it and experiment because that’s something in their control and something that they can use to communicate to each other and within themselves about how they’re feeling and how they’re connected.”
For Dalvin Brown, a 30-year-old journalist who saw Beyoncé for the first time on the Renaissance tour, that connection happened both in person and online. Brown, who sported a diamanté bodysuit with a male physique design on it and a studded cowboy hat and leather jacket, went viral online for his striking look, captured and shared by Beyhive fans at the concert. Brown says the influx of interest in dressing up was accelerated by the pandemic, but also by the Internet, where social media rapidly disseminated trends and fast fashion from online retailers has made putting together a look nearly effortless.
“The access to fast fashion and the Internet creates this world where if you want to experiment with how you dress, you can,” he told TIME. “There’s lots of inspiration online and you’re pretty much getting permission from the Internet because there’s so many people expressing themselves in really creative and wild ways.”
The element of connection was an essential part of Anna Belkin’s decision to dress up for the three Barbie screenings she went to in the span of two weeks. The 34-year-old attorney dressed in a pink jumpsuit for a viewing on opening night; for the second screening, she went with her parents and helped her mother find a pink scarf, while her father wore a shirt that read “On Wednesdays, we smash the patriarchy” in pink lettering. For the third screening, which was part of a bachelorette party activity, she wore pastels to complement the bride-to-be’s outfit. Belkin says dressing up was a way to share the experience with the people she loved. She was also pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie it sparked with her fellow moviegoers.
“Part of the joy of dressing up was to fully be a part of the experience,” she told TIME. “It was truly delightful to walk around in public, where everyone is saying to each other, complete strangers, ‘Hi Barbie!’ It’s nice to be a part of a bigger thing, even if it’s a movie about a doll that is literally like sanctioned by the corporation that makes it, and to feel like you’re not just enjoying the art, but you’re a part of the art.”
Read more: How Barbie Took Over the World
For Jezz Chung, a 32-year-old author, artist and performer, dressing up for the Renaissance tour and the Barbie movie was an empowering experience, rooted in queer community and fun. Chung, who is autistic, said that their outfit was an important part of their sensory experience of the concert. Before attending, Chung hand-affixed gems to a pair of pants, relishing both the feel and the look of the outfit. Dressing, especially in tumultuous times, can be a daily but not insignificant way to claim space, Chung says. A brightly colored outfit or smattering of sparkling rhinestones is a way to express themselves and to present the way they want to, regardless of social conventions.
“Dressing up feels like a way to maintain a sort of agency of our bodies and our lives, shaping who we are in this world and how we get to show up,” they told TIME. “There’s a deep history with people of color, queer people, any kind of marginalized people looking to beauty and fashion, whether that’s clothes, makeup or artistry, to practice a sense of deep liberation.”Leave a comment