Coachella Style Guide: The Hideous 2000s Revival

Anne T. Donahue on the new-retro of this year's festival season

Now that Coachella feels like seconds away, it’s time to talk about what actually matters: the style that breeds there. As we know, Coachella is a mecca of incredible, controversial, and terrible fashion, and if you’re packing to dress accordingly, you’re likely overwhelmed and asking yourself a slew of questions. Mine? Should you wear a crochet crop top? Do you have enough crochet crop tops? Should you pack only crochet crop tops?

But affix your flower crown and/or ironic t-shirt and have a seat. It’s going to be fine, you’re going to survive, and if you’re lucky you will see several celebrities gathered coolly, pretending they’re not ready to succumb to heatstroke the way you are. (Which I understand: I went to an outdoor show once and passed out in a variety store because I didn’t drink enough water. There is no judgment here.) Coachella is an interesting, ridiculous, happy, free, confusing time, but you can beat it by adhering to only one fashion rule: Dress like it’s 2005.

I’m not kidding. The trends currently anchoring themselves to Coachella’s desert landscape are rooted in the best and brightest of the noughties, defined by the likes of Britney Spears, Sienna Miller, and Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush. Which is why I’ve outlined the biggest looks and how each and every one was bred from one of the worst decades in aesthetic history. Don’t believe me? Kid, I lived it. And with every reference to Britney Spears circa 2003, I simply get stronger.

Crop Tops

It’s important that we remember (by me telling you) that Britney Spears ushered in the age of ’00s-sanctioned bared midriffs. Yes, we saw the look prior to "…Baby One More Time." True, midriffs have always existed. Yes, I know Britney Spears has worn full-length tops. But make no mistake: The extent to which we tied up our shirts and embraced our midsection was catalyzed only by the majesty of Britney, her school uniform, and our collective penchant for PG-rated exhibitionism. Which is what we can assume is being told to to Justin Bieber below, as Kendall Jenner patiently explains the parallels between Britney Spears’s aesthetic loyalties and her own.

Justin: “I still don’t get it.”

Kendall: “Actually, it’s about ethics in fashion journalism.”

But see? Now we can link Coachella’s affinity for bared midriffs to the Queen of Pop and her 15-year cropped legacy. Especially when we recall her Laurel Canyon–esque look for "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman," which I haven’t even begun to go in on yet, but just watch me.

Laurel Canyon/Boho Chic™

So let’s reflect on Britney Spears's ode to almost-womanhood — a ballad that went hand in hand with the cinematic masterpiece, Crossroads — that saw Brit perch on a cliff while lamenting about age (#ART). Beautiful, yes — but what mattered less than her lyrics about pseudo-adulthood was the combination of bared midriff, winged sleeves, and her dedication to the aesthetic we’d see her carry for the next 10 years, and which every other celebrity (particularly at Coachella) would pick up and run with.

See? I literally found this photo by searching “sleeves.”

Which can actually be attributed to both Brit-Brit and Sienna Miller, who emerged as the poster child for Boho Chic™ in the mid-noughties. Heavily influenced by the ’60s and ’70s, the trend went hand in hand with the oversize silhouettes (and Ugg boots — woof) of the ’00s, overromanticizing looks previously reserved only for hippies, classic rock and rollers, and sexy cowboys.

And, like, kind of. Chokers aside (less is more, friends and lovers), Katy’s dress is peak 2006 in terms of fabric, fabric, the amount of fabric, and how, if necessary, the dress’s fabric could be used as a yurt under which to take shelter.

Not that Boho Chic™ circa-’16 has to be oversize. As you can see, with the resurgence of fringe, crochet, and peasant tanks, the look now boasts less fabric and is a little more streamlined. Plus, waists are higher, boots aren’t Uggs, and oversize bags have been replaced with fanny packs, so we’re not completely stuck in 2006.

Unless you want to talk about Kendall’s belt, which I do not because it is too soon for me.


Fine, we’ll talk about belts. You want to talk about belts? Sure. Let’s go quietly into that dark night. As if plucked from the wardrobe department of The O.C., Gigi Hadid and BFF Kendall forced us to remember that once upon a time our answer to everything was “just add a belt.”

Was that 2005-era American Eagle dress too baggy? Add a belt. Was your A&F top too flowy? Add a belt. Jeans not “finished” enough? Add a belt. From 2002 to 2009, life was defined by the addition and subtraction of a belt. To be Boho meant to belt. To look “streamlined” meant to belt. Kind of like this:


If you’re truly stuck on what to wear to Coachella, you walk right into your local charity shop, pick up the biggest belt you can find, and wrap it around the piece you are 100 percent certain it would look bad with. That’s how you do noughties.

Board Shorts

Now, anyone who spent most of 2002 watching and rewatching Blue Crush will tell you sincerely: The 2000s would be nothing without a procession of board shorts.

And it’s true, bless us everyone. Skate culture — or, suburban-commodified skate culture as seen in the mall and in Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi” — lent itself to the ’00s-era faux punk aesthetic, as skate tricks, surf slang, and pop-punk began thriving in high school hallways, garages, and the parking lot behind my house. Which also meant we saw a serious onslaught of Quiksilver board shorts during those hot, summer months — a look that not only justified impromptu trips to public pools, but falls in line with Coachella’s “anything goes” style mentality. Especially since Coachella takes place in California, and if viewings of Laguna Beach taught me anything, that is the state in which board shorts procreated at alarming levels.


This is actually the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and I lived through the era of making sure everybody saw your thong when you bent over to pick something up. So let’s try this again.

That’s better. Here, we see Justin Bieber after he googled, “What did Johnny Depp look like after Pirates of the Caribbean,” evoking the “indie man” vibe of the mid-to-late noughties, channeling the wide world of Depp’s dad-rock aesthetic with a side order of circa-'09 Mumford & Sons. (See: feather in one’s hat.)

So think of it this way: If you want to wear a hat to Coachella, ask yourself what Jack White would wear shortly after releasing “Icky Thump.” Do not, under any circumstances, ask yourself about this:

Unless it’s “why” and also “how do I unsee it?”