Rock N' Roll Style Guide: What to Wear to a ROCK Concert

photo by Ellen Von Unwerth

What to wear, what to bring, and how to feel your best at a concert, rock n' roll or otherwise. These are my tips on how to enhance the overall experience and make it a memory.

photo from gucci ad circa '98, photog unknown

In my grandmother's day, a trip to the Metropolitan opera was a big deal. You would’t think twice about dressing up because it was a formal affair. The Opera was a chance to wear your best stuff and feel glamorous. Today's cultural events are often filled with a room of jeans and t-shirts, a symptom of our generation's lax attitude and lack of respect when it comes to dressing up. In my grandma’s day, dressing up wasn’t just about dressing up to feel good, impressing the other attendees, or about looking good for your date. You dressed up to pay respect to the whole production. For this reason alone, it's our duty to look our best. We go to see our favorite performers live because we get pleasure from their art, so the least we can do is honor their presence in how we present ourselves. Whether or not you get the chance to meet your favorite rock star face to face, you will be breathing the same air! Honor the artist by looking your best. Would you wear jeans and a t-shirt in the presence of one of your heroes? I doubt it.

- Think beyond the t-shirt and jeans cliché. Very few people are able to make it work, even if you’re a supermodel. Pull out your best stuff. I don't care if you're at an outdoor festival like Coachella. A dirty tee shirt and cutoff shorts is the farthest thing from rock n' roll glamour.

- Looking good has its rewards. The more you honor the band with your look the more likely you’ll receive the honor of meeting them.

- Visualize your fantasy rock n’ roll party. What do you see? I see leather, sequins, glitter, and color. You don’t want to be the eyesore destroying the fantasy.

It’s time we honor the band and give them a sexy audience to stare back at from the stage. Bring on the glamour!

photo by inez and vinoodh

Since a rock concert is definitely not an opera you will likely be on your feet the entire time. I've spent countless hours in the heat, rain, and bitter cold in 5 inch heels waiting to get into shows. Looking back, wearing pretty shoes wasn't worth an evening's worth of foot spasms. When picking your shoes there are many factors to keep it mind. Rock shows are usually about 3 hours between the opening acts and the headliner, but you have to account for all the other time. Will you be standing for 3 hours before the show to secure a spot in the front of the stage? Will you be waiting outside the back door for the band to come out? Your wait could be anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours. Another thing to consider is your concert goer personality. Are you the moshing, crowd-surfing type? Chances are if your a mosher you won't last very long in high heels, and if you're a crowd surfer, your stiletto heel will easily poke out an eye. Are you a groupie that feels the need to wear 5 inch heels in case you meet the band post-show? What is your vantage point? Will you be sheltered in VIP box seats or watching the show from backstage? Is it an outdoor or indoor show, GA or seating? Could you use a few extra inches to see over the crowd?

- My answer to almost all of the questions is to choose a comfortable and attractive shoe. They do exist! If an orthopedic shoe, and a stripper heel got together this shoe is their child. My rock show shoe of choice is a pump with a thicker heel for balance, a slight platform for comfort, and an ankle strap for security.

- For men, I suggest a simple boot. With boots you look sleek, masculine, and you get an extra inch or two. Sneakers are sloppy. The only sneakers I own are patent leather and even so, I wouldn't wear them to a concert.

- Often the prettier shoes you wear, the uglier your feet become over time. This is a grand generalization, but if 5 inch spiked stilettos are your signature, eventually your feet will form into the shape of the shoe. Not so pretty. Rarely is anyone looking at your feet at a concert. The little bones in your feet do move around and standing around for hours on end dancing to rock n’ roll isn’t going to help them.

my favorite concert hang bags via polyvore.com

Almost every woman I know keeps the entire contents of her life in her purse. You may recall this scene from Mary Poppins where she pulls a lamp among other things out of her bag. This is pretty much my bag on an ordinary day, but when I'm going to a concert I edit the contents. Give the heavy oversized leather purse a night off and go for a small sparkly bag out for a change. Ideally, you want one with a long strap that falls at the hip. You need your arms free to move to the music, fist pump, wave your cell phone, and throw devils horns in the air. Unless you were invited as a press photographer, leave the big DSLR camera home. Your phone can double as a camera. While I regularly do photography, I’ve never been one for taking pictures at concerts. When I’m caught up in the thrill of the moment the last thing on my mind is pulling out a camera. If you want to enjoy the experience of the music trying to document every moment of the stage spectacle takes you out of it. If you're going to a show to experience a show, be in the present. If you're going to a show with the intention of photography, that's different. I'll take the vivid memory of the experience, over the photos any day.

- All you need is your ticket, phone, keys, credit card, a bit of cash, and maybe a lipstick.

- The best concert purse is small (slightly larger than a wallet) with a long, thin strap that can go across the chest. The pouch should fall at the hip. Go for a purse with pizazz. Sparkles and sequins are the epitome of rock n' roll glamour.

- Leave home bulky items like DSLR cameras, umbrellas, water bottles, and makeup compacts.

- Bring enough cash for a cab ride back, and take down the numbers of local cab services in the area of the concert before you leave. You don't want to be stranded in the middle of nowheresville post show.

photo credit unknown

While it's normal for me to gallivant around in a twenty pound Mongolian lamb coat on a regular day, there's no way that monster is coming with me to a rock concert. Indoor concerts are hot no matter the season, and even if you're outdoors you'll likely be warm from dancing and getting pushed in the crowd. If you don't have an actual seat to throw a jacket or sweater on, you'll be holding onto your jacket in the pit. Nothing is worse than carrying a big coat around when you want to dance.

- Wear a sleeveless top underneath, thin, light layers. Top your look with a scarf or shawl that can easily be wrapped around you or tied onto your purse strap. Stay away from bulky sweaters and jackets which can be annoying to hold when you want your arms free to move around.

- Any invaluable pieces of of clothing, should be your first layer

- Have a simple black jacket, wrap/ shawl, blazer, or poncho on hand that you wouldn't care to lose. I've brought, worn, and lost, many black shawls at concerts. They're perfect because they can be worn as a scarf, a wrap, thrown over a chair or tied over your waist and shouldn't cost more than $10. Something like this.

photo credit unknown

A rock concert is an opportunity to amp up your everyday look and take it to the next level. Rock n' roll is all about fantasy, so this is a chance to get creative with your look. Be the fantasy version of yourself. Sometimes it's nice to have a unifying theme when you’re getting dressed. If you need inspiration look to the music. What vibe are you feeling? Is it airy and whimsical, dark and brooding, glam and peppy? Imagine you’re the main character in your favorite song.

- Let your diverse music taste bring diversity to your wardrobe. What I'd wear to see Motley Crue is very different from what I’d wear to see Radiohead.

- You gan give an ode to your favorite performer without completely dressing up as them. For instance, get inspired by the textures and colors you associate with the artist rather than the signature clothing items they wear. For instance, if you were going to see Slash you wouldn't wear a leather top hat, but you could mix a leather jacket and silver rings.

- Don't wear the t-shirt of the band you're going to see. It's unoriginal. Think, would the band want to hang out with me in the outfit I'm wearing?

photo by terry richardson and ellen von unwerth

Many think rock n' roll isn't rock n' roll without its silly tagline. My preference is to experience a concert completely sober. A concert is an intense high for me, one that trumps any sensation that booze or a hit could ever bring. I’d rather have the natural glow of elation, than a spaced out, dumbfounded expression while watching a show.

There's bound to be a lot of movin’ and groovin’, moshin', surfin', and pushin' goin' on, so be prepared. If you’re a chick you need to be doubly prepared. It’s ruthless out there especially when a good majority of the crowd is inebriated and wants to be as close to the stage as possible. Unless you have the luxury of box seats or backstage passes I wouldn’t wear your shortest skirt and highest heels.

- Unless you're backstage or have box seats, you need to be aware of the many messy drunk people at the show (you definitely don't want to be one of them). Like a defensive driver, be a defensive dresser. Nothing you wear should be easy access. So sorry, no halters, and no mini skirts.

- If having a little something helps you loosen up and relax, then by all means go for it, but keep it to a minimum and don't get sloppy.

- Try to befriend security guards at shows. They'll protect you from the rowdy crowd, and if you're lucky, bump up your seats.

photos by me. taken side stage at gods of metal festival in milan '07

My favorite ruffled corset top has a weird bend in the boning, but whenever I wear it, it reminds me of being backstage at Gods of Metal in Milan. A rock concert is an epic event, so the clothes you wear should seal the memory. Dressing up sets the tone for the day, makes you feel good, and leaves you with a tangible memory. I find when people are the most excited about a piece of clothing it's because it's attached to a memory of an event. It's not everyday that you get to wear your glammiest, sparkly, studded wears. A concert may require your to bear the elements or be stuck between two sweaty t-shirt wearing beer guzzlers, but at the end of the night, a rip, tear, or stain on one of your favorite items is a battle scar, forever imprinted as an artifact of the experience. I encourage you to go find something extraordinary. Even if this special article winds up with a tear in the elbow, when someone says “you know you have a tear in your sleeve” you’ll have a chance to recount the time you were in the pit rocking out to your favorite band!
I love the stories my grandma tells me about skipping school to see Frank Sinatra. I frankly wish she saved the outfit she wore. Wouldn’t it be nice to give your grandchild not only a good story, but the shirt you wore when you saw your favorite band in 2011?

I'd love to hear your concert outfit experiences. Is there a certain pair of pants you covet, 'cause you met your favorite rocker while wearing them?

Do you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for dressing up for a rock show? I wanna hear!