When Taylor Swift announced her massive Eras Tour last fall, thousands of devoted fans anxiously began working on travel plans and ticket-buying strategies.
But Rosy Vega, a 23-year-old Swiftie from Biloxi, Mississippi, was thinking something else: “What am I going to wear?”
A self-described “girly-pop type” of music fan, Vega is no stranger to mammoth stadium tours like Swift’s, where fans bring fashion, fandom, and music together on a massive scale.
“I was lucky enough to go to three of Harry Styles’ Love On Tour shows,” Vega told Insider. “People were always complimenting each other’s outfits, and it was amazing. But too many times, I’d hear people say, ‘Oh, I got it from Shein,’ or other places like that, and I would secretly kind of cringe.”
So the moment Vega secured Eras Tour tickets, the Swiftie shifted her focus to planning an outfit worthy of both a large-scale cultural event and the environment.
And when she did, she joined countless other music fans who are determined to stop live shows from becoming fast-fashion nightmares — even if they have to do so one outfit at a time.
When did concert outfits become so extra?
The London-based research company Censuswide found in a 2019 study that British concertgoers wore about 7.5 million outfits only once for music events, and they spent roughly $307 million on those garments.
Insider reported in 2022 that more than 100 billion apparel items are created each year, while about 101 million tons of clothing are sent to landfills in a year.
So how did this happen? Before there was the Eras Tour or Beyoncé’s Renaissance run, there was Coachella and Burning Man.
Experts told Insider that the eye-catching outfits at those desert festivals quickly and massively influenced concert culture — especially in the past decade.
“It became the idea that you wear an amazing outfit every single day of Coachella,” Erin Wallace, the VP of marketing at the secondhand fashion retailer ThredUp, told Insider. “And now you also tag the brand on social media.”
And as festival fashion rose in popularity, influencers, celebrities, and fast-fashion brands took note, Wallace said.
Vanessa Hudgens went from being a Disney Channel star to the unofficial queen of Coachella fashion. And beauty influencers like James Charles have gotten in on the spotlight, taking short breaks from creating makeup-focused content to attend the event and wear daring outfits.
Then there are the fashion brands.
The clothing retailer Revolve has become known for hosting influential stars at an invite-only party each year at Coachella, and Shein recently partnered with Stagecoach on a curated section of its website advertising inexpensive clothes that attendees could wear.
Brands like Cider, on the other hand, have tagged different clothing items with the names of celebrities like Swift so that shoppers can easily find concert outfits and pieces designed to look like something the musician herself has worn.
It was the merger of that kind of marketing and the changing economics of fashion that took the trend mainstream, said Elizabeth L. Cline, a researcher, educator, and writer who focuses on sustainable and ethical fashion.
“Fast fashion went from cheap to dirt-cheap, and it became very frictionless,” she told Insider. “So I think it’s really a combination of extremely low prices, the convenience and anonymity of buying things online, and the pressure — but also community — on social media, because now it’s kind of expected that you’re going to participate in that.”
For many music fans, Harry Styles’ Love On Tour was the first traveling show to give them that opportunity after the pandemic, some concertgoers told Insider. And then, of course, came the Eras Tour and Renaissance World Tour.
“These concert tours are just so massive that they have the weight and impact of an entire festival,” Wallace said. “Whether it’s Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, or whoever, there’s this magnetic pull getting everybody out of their homes. They want to experience it together, and part of that experience is dressing the part.”
The impact of those feather boas, sparkly outfits, and cowboy hats
The garments most popular at concerts today aren’t exactly everyday wardrobe staples.
“We’re seeing sequins, feather boas made from synthetic materials, and really cheap, plastic clothing of all kinds,” Cline said. “When you think about synthetic materials, in particular, people are buying things that are disposable and not biodegradable. These clothes might not go away for a very long time. You can assume they weren’t made with a great deal of care for the environment.”
Wallace, on the other hand, said the number of people going to concerts and buying single-use outfits is equally alarming, especially when considering what happens to the garments afterward.
As of early August, searching “Eras Tour outfits Shein” on TikTok surfaced dozens of videos with more than 1.8 billion views collectively. Meanwhile, videos tagged “Eras Tour outfits Amazon” had more than 2 billion total views.
“Is there a correlating need to give these items a second life or a third life?” Wallace said. “If we’ve just had such a huge uptick in the purchase of these items, but then there’s a huge donation of these items, what’s the next massive audience that’s looking for them?”
But that’s not the fault of the consumer, she said.
“I think it really just speaks to the overproduction of super trend-driven items,” Wallace said. “They certainly already exist in the world.”
Cline also noted that concerts aren’t the only time people buy single-use outfits. Halloween, weddings, and other notable events have spawned single-use outfits for decades. “Concert fashion is part of the problem, but it’s such a big systemic issue,” she said. “Part of me wants to say people need to go and enjoy themselves, and we really need to be figuring this out on a higher level.”
Music fans are taking sustainability into their own hands
Many fans seem to have figured out how to look trendy — and stay sustainable — while attending a major cultural event.
Brooke Taylor, a 22-year-old concertgoer from San Francisco, wanted to be conscious of her wallet and the environment when choosing her Eras Tour outfit, so she turned to a local thrift store, small businesses on Etsy, and her own closet.
“I have white cowboy boots, and I bought a pink, sparkly dress on Poshmark for $13, which was amazing,” she said. “I also have a jean jacket that I painted myself and hand-glued all the jewels on, glasses I made, and accessories that I sourced from Etsy.”
Christina Blake, a 22-year-old from Fairfax, Virginia, did something similar.
A longtime competitive dancer, Blake knew she had a stockpile of leotards on her hands — so she turned to them before considering buying a new outfit.
“I’ve always been super into arts and crafts, and I’m really passionate about sustainable fashion,” she told Insider. “So when pictures of Taylor’s tour outfits started coming out, I absolutely fell in love with the blue, beaded-fringe bodysuit that she wears during the ‘Midnights’ portion of the concert.”
So Blake worked on recreating it. “For about two weeks, I spent pretty much all my spare time set up in my little arts-and-crafts area, putting down glue and rhinestones,” she said.
And then there’s Vega, another Swiftie who was eager to DIY one of Swift’s iconic looks. But unlike Blake and Taylor, she didn’t know where to start.
“I knew that, like me, there were probably a lot of Swifties who also live in small towns, don’t know where to shop, or had no clue what to wear, so I decided to make a Facebook group to help,” she said. “I knew the Swifties would unite.”
And that’s exactly what they did. So far, more than 43,000 people have joined Vega’s “Eras Tour Outfits” group.
There, they’ve been sharing outfit ideas, reselling their concert clothing, and inspiring other Swifties to think about sustainability when preparing their concert outfits.
At the end of the day, Vega knows that all fashion choices have a lasting impact and that Facebook groups like hers might not be the ultimate solution to single-use outfits.
But what’s most important to her, she said, is that she and so many other fans are trying.
“It’s so easy to buy an outfit and forget about it, but with 60,000-plus fans in each stadium across 146 announced shows so far, I knew that a difference had to be made somewhere,” Vega said. “And what an opportunity to share outfits you’ve only worn once to make someone else as happy as you were in it.”
This article is part of “The Great Transition,” a series covering the big changes across industries that are leading to a more sustainable future. For more climate-action news, visit Insider’s One Planet hub.