It was 12am on a Thursday night and, despite having an early morning train to catch, I was still awake, supergluing mirrored squares onto a cowboy hat. As I nicked my finger for the umpteenth time, I wondered if perhaps I was putting too much effort into an outfit I’d only be wearing for half a day at one Beyoncé concert, but upon arriving at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium I found I was not just that I was not the only one to have spent time and money on fitting the Renaissance style (futuristic disco with nods to cowboy chic), but that my DIY hat was rather underwhelming compared to the creations other fans were sporting. This wasn’t just a pop concert; this was a full-blown fashion show.
With a ticket to this tour, you enroll in a parade of silver. Heads turn and people point with appreciation whenever a new sparkly ensemble arrives to take their seat (or fight for a place to stand). The best ones are plucked from the crowd by Beyoncé’s official photographers and end up pictured on her website or her Instagram. It isn’t enough to go and simply enjoy the show – the Beyhive – Beyoncé’s fandom – want to be noticed. Not just by Beyoncé, but by each other.
To dress up according to an artist’s current aesthetic, which often changes with each album release, is to present yourself as one of their most loyal fans. It’s no longer enough to wear the T-shirt you bought last time you saw them live. Instead, a complete embodiment of their latest “era” (of which fashion is often the most visually arresting part, not to mention easiest to copy), is what separates the hard-line stans from the casual listeners. It’s the pop music equivalent of being able to name all the players on a football team. A glittery cowboy hat says, “I love Beyoncé”; a homemade recreation of her tour outfit screams, “I love Beyoncé the most”.
“Beyoncé has always been an artist who inspires people to express themselves in a multitude of ways, including fashion,” says Leila Ostria, a 27-year-old fan from Washington DC who has seen Queen Bey live 18 times (and has six more dates in the diary when Beyoncé takes the tour to America in July). “Her music has always been very empowering and exudes the message to be yourself and always stay confident regardless of what others think.” It does take a certain level of confidence to wander around Edinburgh in a sequinned bra and a cowboy hat, let me tell you, but I was far from alone.
Ostria is one of innumerable online influencers advising others on what to wear to Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour. One of her “Renaissance tour outfit ideas” TikTok videos (in which she is also wearing a discoball cowboy hat) has been watched by almost half a million people. The search term “renaissance tour outfit” has almost four billion views on the app and is full of tutorials on how to rhinestone or customise cowboy hats and boots. Since the shows have begun, it’s also full of virtual fashion shows, showing off outfits fans have already worn, from diamanté headpieces to leather jackets with “Renaissance World Tour” written on the back in tiny, mirrored squares.
The struggle Beyoncé fans have faced in the lead up to the tour is the lack of music videos or visuals from the woman herself. It’s an unusual move for the superstar, whose last two solo albums, 2016’s Lemonade (with its yellow gown and baseball bat “Hold Up” outfit and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” fur coat) and 2014’s Beyoncé, were “visual albums”, where each song was accompanied by a dedicated music video. Without a clear guide, ticket holders have planned their outfits around the album artwork, in which Beyoncé sits atop a mirrorball horse statue – since nicknamed Reneigh and who gets a big cheer when Bey flies across the stadium on her back in the show – hence the cowboy references. Worldwide Google searches for “metallic cowboy boots” skyrocketed by 300 per cent following the first night of the Renaissance tour in Stockholm, while “disco cowboy hat” searches jumped by 525 per cent.
As the tour has progressed and videos of the performance (and Beyoncé’s own fashion) have flooded social media, some fans found inspiration. Lucian Koncz, who attended the second show at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium earlier this week, spent three days and £40 recreating the star’s now-iconic Loewe handprint bodysuit. “At first I wasn’t going to wear it to the tour, I was just going to make it and post it on social media but then people got invested,” he says. “Some even said they want to take a picture with me.”
Social media, says Koncz, plays a big part in the reason fans are so keen to dress up for the Renaissance tour. “There’s a bit of friendly “showing off” energy when it comes to what we wear,” he says. “Everyone wants to have their little moment of social media attention. Me included! We want to show her how much we love her but also this is our moment to truly shine and be ourselves. We won’t have another moment like this to wear the most sparkly outfit we have.”
Beyoncé’s fans are not alone. Harry Styles, currently touring the UK in support of his album Harry’s House, also has fans dressed in a specific aesthetic which, according to superfan Laurel Melsom, amounts to “sequins, feathers, slogan tees, rhinestones, cowboy hats, denim”. Good news for fans with tickets to both Styles and Beyoncé shows and whose coffers are left empty as a result; sounds like there’s at least a bit of overlap.
Melson, who founded That Fangirl Life, a blog about pop-culture fandom, has been to all four of Styles’ shows since he returned to the UK earlier this month and has plans to attend his four Wembley Arena concerts as well as the final tour date in Italy. “This year I’ve done a lot of outfits around songs or matching with friends,” she says, pointing to fashion resale app Vinted as a good place to source pieces. Her outfits so far, which she reckons took 48 hours to make in total, include a denim jumpsuit embroidered with a colourful Saturn (a recreation of one of Styles’ own tour outfits) and a T-shirt emblazoned with a diamanté watermelon (in honour of one of his biggest hits “Watermelon Sugar”).
Melson says that it’s Styles himself – much like Beyoncé – who inspires his fans to dress up. “I think after the pandemic people have started to realise how short life can be and to just embrace dressing how you want,” she says. “Harry’s shows are a place where you can be whoever you want to be just for those few short hours. It’s fun to just be able to wear something that you’d probably not get to wear anywhere else.” Styles himself is, of course, a fashion darling, having appeared on the cover of Vogue in a Gucci ballgown. That his gender fluid attitude toward his clothes (which extends to his often pink, often sparkly, stage outfits styled by Harry Lambert) would inspire his fans to use clothes to express their identity as part of his tribe makes perfect sense.
Taylor Swift fans – collective noun, Swifties – have also been flooding social media with their outfits for her Eras Tour which has taken over America. Now in its third month of stadium shows (the majority of which have been sold out) and designed to celebrate Swift’s entire two-decade career, the sprawling concept concert offers her fans plenty of inspiration to draw from. Those who have loved Swift from the beginning of her career turn up with the ringlets she sported on the cover of her 2006 debut album, others dress as snakes (one of the recurring motifs of 2017 album Reputation) or with long, tousled plaits a la her more recent Folklore era.
Swifties are taking literal inspiration from her Grammy-winning visceral lyricism; I’ve seen people dressed up as a table with “glass shattered on the white cloth”, in “a wine-stained dress” and even as a “fuck the patriarchy” keyring, photographed “on the ground”. Boyfriends in attendance wear T-shirts emblazoned with “karma” (“karma is my boyfriend,” Swift sings on her latest single) and there are plenty of cosplays of Olivia Benson, Meredith Grey and Benjamin Button – the star’s cats.
Twenty-four-year-old digital artist Lauren Sinibaldi from Pennysylvania hasn’t chosen just one era, she’s honouring all 10 albums since 2006 with a pair of jeans featuring hundreds of hand-drawn images representing each of Swift’s epochs. “It has taken me so long,” she says. “I started drawing at the end of March and finished just before the New York Show on 26 May, so it took me two months.” This sort of dedication might just pay off – as Beyoncé is rewarding sartorial efforts with a spot on her website, Swift is known for rewarding her fans with likes on social media and even gifts. That’s enough to spur any devoted Swiftie going.
Swift is yet to announce UK dates for the Eras tour, but when she does, Sinibaldi suggests wearing something “sparkly and bejeweled — the more frills, sequins, and glitter the better.”
“Swifties love the sense of community that dressing up together brings,” she adds. “I absolutely adore seeing all the outfits. It feels like a Taylor Swift convention more than a concert at times.” She also credits Styles with the rise in concert fashion. “He really changed the game with fans dressing up for tour. But social media plays the largest role in the explosion of concert outfits. By posting on TikTok, you’re able to receive validation for all the effort you put into your costume, and everyone wants a little attention and validation, even if they won’t admit it. I also think it just goes back to the sense of community in fandoms. People just really want to be a part of something so special.”
Concerts have become not just a place to sing along to your favourite songs and share the same space as an iconic artist, but also to express your love for them. A sparkly cowboy hat is the new framed ticket (mine is hung up on my wall, the mirrors already peeling off) and a raggedy feather boa is just as prized as any of the expensive merch on sale. It’s a way to mark a concert as more than just a night out, as an important life event with the potential for intense profundity. You might agonise for weeks over a wedding dress. What makes the Renaissance World Tour any different?
Beyoncé is halfway through her London residency, with three more shows to go until she heads to Barcelona. If your outfit isn’t ready, yet, then Ostria has some advice. “The vibe is disco cowboy, futuristic, flamboyant, and sparkly,” she says, but also adds that comfort should be fans’ number one priority, especially if you will be standing. “We are there to enjoy the music and dance. So, make your outfit cute but comfy!” The most important tip? It’s cowboy hats off when Queen Bey comes to the stage.