As many of us spend today flipping through the endless Coachella style diaries of eager and well-meaning fashion websites, I am yet again paralyzed by the fatigue of what we as a society have deemed “Coachella style,” a manner of dressing that can hardly be called style at all, but more specifically a “uniform” or a “costume” built upon a heavily codified, conformist fantasy of what it means to “get weird.”
Coachella style, some embarrassingly basic hybrid of online mall quasi-hippie and West Coast Instagram vampire, often ends up drenched in fringe and florals and ratty micro-jorts, all in an attempt to assert how carefree one feels in the desert at a rather expensive music festival one must drive to attend. Accessories have varied—to the mainstream, flower crowns are played, chokers are now what’s up—but the general tired tenor has not, year after year.
On rare occasions, though, an attendee hits the festival in full “weird” regalia without having fully altered their personal style. And this year, the most Coachella style person attending Coachella in everyday clothing is, hands down, a gentleman by the name of Cole Whittle, who plays in the band DNCE. Here they are on Saturday, performing at the Coachella Republic Records Jaegermeister Party; Whittle is on the right.
If you hadn’t yet noticed, Joe Jonas is the singer; DNCE formed sometime in 2015 and, by the end of it, had released an EP, SWAAY, on Republic. Earlier this year, DNCE appeared as the prom band on Fox’s Grease Live!, and just last month, they shot a video for their single “Rock Bottom,” a collaboration with Hailee Steinfeld from her EP Haiz.
Together, Jonas and Steinfeld sound affably harmonious and caramel-sweet in a song about a mutually destructive relationship that neither party can bring themselves to dissolve. It’s anthemic and guileless, made more epic with DNCE’s power chords, yet there’s something totally wholesome about it, whether from the personas the two vocalists have cultivated through the years or the songwriting or both.
DNCE itself, in its fairly limited output and short time as a band, seems to occupy a space that the music industry always wants to fill: that of carefree, somewhat jokey pop-rock that conveys a styrofoam sense of shenanigans, philosophically if not sonically something like Phantom Planet. Objectively speaking, their music does this with aplomb; their songs are catchy and danceable, particularly disco-inflected hit “Cake by the Ocean”; they cast the Fat Jew in a video. It’s a formula maximized for virality, and it’s slick, done so with the savvy of people who’ve spent a decent amount of time in the biz to know how to shape and formulate the sort of vibrant image that will resonate.
For awhile now, I’ve been concerned with the costuming of Whittle, though, whose red carpet and on-camera looks have all the effect of being eye-catching, unique and interesting but which lack the cohesion that defines his band’s ambiance.
Whittle, who also plays (played?) in the band Semi Precious Weapons—also featuring pop songwriter du jour Justin Tranter, who cowrote “Rock Bottom”—has a very distinctive style that I cannot tear my eyes from, not because I particularly like it (which I do not) but because there’s something about it I want to understand. It’s not quite an optical illusion, but the brain seeks to unscramble it. And yet in the context of Coachella fashion, it feels like a very pure go at style, a DIY approach that seems less like trying very hard and more like an attempt to emulate Whittles’s clearest fashion precedent: the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, who in the ‘80s and ‘90s forged something of a cottage industry of being a freaky-deaky bassist with no shirt and endless basketball shorts.
Semi Precious Weapons formed in 2006, four or five years after New York City’s electroclash era really peaked, but something about Whittle’s ensembles recall the ethos of that. Mainly, they’re almost defiantly DIY and outrageous—which in those days, was in part a side effect of everyone using far too much cocaine to execute full judgment over our style notes. The whole ordeal was kind of like being in Jane Fonda video outtakes possessed by neons.
Whittles is not doing this; his style to me is an amalgam of mid-’00s Burning Man, pre-cancellation Rubulad, bummed-out art student, early Lady Gaga, Drag Race spotlight challenge winner, 2002 German trance DJ, recent vintage two thousand and nah and, of course, Coachella icon for just being himself and doing his thing. Which again, is all incredibly confusing and fascinating at once. Here are some great looks.
Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards, March 12, 2015: There’s cohesion in the group’s pop art style for this one, but obviously Whittles draws one’s eye to his picnic skorts, a little gingham drape topped by a plastic lunch—coleslaw, pickle, bologna sandwich on white bread. It’s lunchtime realness in the most explicit sense. Would wear to Coachella.
COUNTERPOINT: Joe’s Lichtenstein shirt is really hitting the pop mark, particularly in combination with drummer Jack Lawless’s yellow/rust color-blocking. No one would wear either look to Coachella.
In February, at Vanity Fair/FIAT event toasting “Young Hollywood” 2016: On one hand I’m loathing this the most because of the way the space leggings seem so disparate with the poncho, I also appreciate the fact that anyone would apparently go straight from picking up a yarn-edged ‘70s drug rug from the Value Village and go directly to a fairly bougie event. Would probably not wear to Coachella.
COUNTERPOINT: Everyone else is somewhat phoning it in. All could be worn to Coachella.
Billboard 100 Awards, February 2016: Another poncho, this one celebrating Hendrix, the act of wearing shortpants, and pink socks that say “Boobies” tucked into Storm Trooper slippers. I want to hate it but conceptually and in hue it’s so close to the work of one of my favorite designers, Manish Arora, that I cannot do so without hypocrisy. It’s just his thing. It’s also like, Coachella catnip. Wear this shit and there will be 3500 street style pics of you on the internet by sundown.
COUNTERPOINT: Again, the rest of the crew isn’t doing too much, but bassist JinJoo Lee is working the Instagirl starter kit buggy shades and flight jacket. Everyone at Coachella who isn’t wearing a fringe duster is wearing this.
Z100 Jingle Ball, December 2015:: This dude didn’t have a shirt so he literally cut a hole in a hand towel and DIY’d a dickie. PRACTICAL FOR COACHELLA!
COUNTERPOINT: JinJoo looks cute, but do not wear head to toe leather at Coachella (comfort).
Z100 Morning Show, December 2015: If I’m being honest, I dated a dude in 2009 who I think had this exact outfit, except he wore a shirt with it (mostly). This could probably be worn to Coachella.
COUNTERPOINT: Santa is serving classic Santa realness. Without having gone this year, I think we can reasonably guesstimate that roughly 32 people wore some variation of this outfit to Coachella over the weekend.
Step and repeat, Z100 2015: Another look that emphasizes your boy is wearing three belts and a Slinky as a choker—which as we have already identified, is on trend this year. Yes for Coachella!
Some Other Jingle Ball, December 2015: Boxing shorts are surprisingly advanced in this rubric and I’m impressed. You could wear it to Coachella, but might feel a little “exposed.”
COUNTERPOINT: Jinjoo’s simple and cute crop-and-leggings basics would work for Coachella if they weren’t sequined (sequins absorb sunlight, can kill).
2015 American Music Awards, November 2015: Velour turtleneck, grey skort in what looks like brocade, and (not pictured) a huge ear cuff that reads “Do Not Disturb” and seems to have been handcrafted out of a recycled hotel accoutrement. Coachella? Nah.
COUNTERPOINT: All of these looks are too hefty to wear to Coachella, though color-coordination is always appreciated.
Halo Awards, November: This broad-shouldered fur number is very late ‘70s German new wave, though the dookie chain might throw it off. Not a very Coachella street style look on account of heft, weight.
COUNTERPOINT: Joe’s breakaway pants could be good for ventilation; go forth to Coachella if thy dare.
iHeartRadio Music Fest, September 2015: It’s an asymmetrical fire attendant vest with practical culottes and two watches (one as a sort of palm accessory): why not! The key here is individuality, letting one’s freak flag fly.
Stay tuned for more stunning Coachella fashion coverage during weekend two!
Images via Getty