I didn’t plan for this to happen. When I packed for the festival, I chose regular clothes — shorts, tank tops, a sundress. You see, I’m not a raver, and I’d never been to a rave before, so I had no idea what to expect. Actually, that’s not true. I once saw a gaggle of girls dressed in tutus and furry boots leaving a hotel in downtown L.A., apparently on their way to a rave. So I knew enough about rave culture to recognize the tropes: the boots, the bracelets, the drugs, the glow sticks. I just had no idea what to expect once I got there.
I barfed and went home early on my first night at EDC. I’d drunk too little water and inhaled too much dust. I was also completely and utterly overwhelmed. The last time I’d gone to a large-scale musical event was back in 1999 to see the Spice Girls at the Forum. (I must admit, even though I am a music journalist, I’ve never been to a music festival — not even Coachella.) Needless to say, I was wholly unprepared for the sheer size, scale, and volume of the event.
And then there were the outfits — or rather, lack thereof. Girls were wearing panties and bras and thongs like it was the most normal thing in the world. Of course, it was over 100 degrees outside, and I sure as hell am no Mormon. But still, I was shocked. One girl wore a unitard made entirely of (thin) black duct tape. Others seemed to have given up on clothes altogether.
“Holy fuck,” I thought to myself as I dragged my heat-addled (and fully clothed) body through the crowd. “These girls are one step away from being naked and yet, they don’t seem to give a fuck.” I just didn’t get it. Why, other than the heat, were so many women dressed so skimpily? I thought the point of going to a festival was to listen to music and dance, not show off your body and get hit on or stared at.
Granted, not all women are feminists or as sensitive to catcalling and the male gaze as I am, but still, what was up with this? Why were so many females willing to objectify themselves and strip for strangers? What were they getting out of this? What was I missing?
As luck would have it, one of my assignments fell through and I needed to come up with another story. I did some brainstorming and hashed out a few ideas, before it hit me: For the second night of EDC, I’d go undercover by dressing as a raver. If I wanted to truly understand the outfit choices of these women, I’d have to try it out for myself. I’d have to be the guinea pig. Or in this case, the girl with the pasties over her nipples.
Shopping for rave gear is both a titillating and challenging experience. Parts of your body that have never seen the light of day are suddenly exposed, and you forget that furry leg warmers are a fashion abomination. You question your ability to squeeze into a size medium pair of booty shorts and wonder why there’s nothing bigger than a size large available.
And then you have to choose your pasties. You realize that your identity as a rave girl hinges on the stickers you choose. Will you be that girl with the daisies on her boobs or the neon-green alien faces? Or perhaps you’re more partial to feline nipples or glaring yellow happy faces.
It was a tough decision, but in the end, I decided to be a stoner girl, opting for glittery marijuana leaf pasties, green booty shorts, a weed-printed bandanna, and a watermelon-flavored ring pop. Fully dressed, with my black Doc Marten boots on my feet, I looked like Poison Ivy’s slutty, rebellious second cousin.
There was only one problem: I lacked the tell-tale EDM accessory of kandi bracelets. I’d seen them on the wrists of men and women alike, and I was pretty sure people traded them. My editor, noticing my lack of baubles, decided to induct me into the world of bracelet-trading by lending me his one and only kandi bracelet (which said “AZN SQUAD”).
Turns out that to receive the bracelet from the other person, you have to go through a three-step handshake of sorts, sealed at the end by a hug. As he explained, this was an act of “PLUR” (Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect), which sort of acts as the guiding principle behind rave culture. With my practically bare wrists, I’d be easily identifiable as a rave newbie, he told me, and he bet that I would probably be given a bracelet or two by the end of the night.
The moment I left the hotel, I got my first comment. “It looks like the Emerald City,” a blond, 40-year-old man said, looking at my ass. I smiled and gave a curt nod. Catcalling and comments (be they complimentary or otherwise) are part of the reason I’m against salacious dressing. People tend to think your outfit is an invitation to be talked to. But I had to be prepared for this, I reasoned. I’m practically begging for it. Forgo your T-shirt and you can bet that someone is gonna make a comment.
After our two-hour crawl of a drive to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, we finally made it to EDC. For the first time that night, I was around similarly dressed people. Granted, there weren’t as many women wearing pasties as I’d expected — I counted only a dozen the entire night — but already, I felt more comfortable. Was it just me, or were people, men especially, avoiding staring at my chest? Here I was, essentially walking around without a shirt or pants on, yet nobody seemed to blink an eye.
I’ve always felt safer and more comfortable in warm weather, and tonight, I realized, was no exception. I was wearing the least amount of clothing that I’d ever worn in public, and I was OK with it. I felt safe and more than a little accepted. In passing, people would call out things like “I like your pasties!” and “Those are cool!” Girls would come up to me and cheer me on, telling me that I looked “beautiful,” and others asked if they could take pictures with me or give me a hug. I was given four kandi bracelets (one of which said “MY TITTY” and another “IMMA G”), as well as a happy-face pin. People constantly approached me, occasionally offering me puffs of joints or sharing what they believed were clever quips (“I want to smoke your nipples,” for example).
It was as if people were responding not to me or my outfit but to the fact that I had the cojones to wear the outfit in the first place. No one jostled me or cornered me or made me feel uncomfortable or propositioned in any way. Perhaps this was because there was a confluence of similarly dressed women all over the place (and a major shortage of T-shirts at the event). Because I was one of many, I didn’t stand out in the same way that I would in a real-life context. Not to mention, a good percentage of the people I encountered were probably tripping on feel-good drugs of some sort that negated the reality of “super-aggressive males,” as one partygoer explained to me. Ogling and hassling were simply not PLUR things to do. Being a creep didn’t fall into the context of EDC behavior, and surprisingly, everyone seemed to have gotten the memo.
But although I felt secure, if not a little popular, I still didn’t understand why so many women had jumped on the almost-nudie bandwagon. Surely it wasn’t just because of the heat.
And indeed, it wasn’t. Most women I asked said they wore pasties (or thongs) because it made them feel good about themselves. Christina, a girl wearing cat pasties, said she chose her outfit because of the self-love and confidence it afforded her. “I have insecurities, but I’m not going to let them overcome me,” she said. “No one wants that.” Another girl named Autumn pointed out that they’re not only “comfortable” but fair. “Men get to walk around without shirts on,” she said, “and this is the only time I can be shirtless in public too.” Others, like Lauren, a girl who was also wearing a neon-green G-string, provided me with me a more blunt answer. “It’s for all the attention,” she told me. “I’m just being brutally honest.”
It was then that I realized that there were two sorts of girls who showed off their bodies: ones who did it for themselves and ones who did it for others. But in the end, it all came down to the same thing. By wearing revealing outfits to EDC, these women were experiencing firsthand the wonders and glories of PLUR. In an environment where peace, love, unity, and respect dominate, why not embrace your body, show it off, and feel comfortable in your own skin? If you’re shy or self-conscious, wearing pasties can help you overcome these hurdles. “It’s like, ‘This is me,’” said a girl named Erica. “I’m not hiding anything.”
I’m pretty sure that this will be the only time in my life that I wear pasties. I’m not going to start showing more skin or hemming my skirts. But I do have more tolerance when it comes to female exhibitionism. I realized that in judging women for their outfit choices, I had been harsh and anything but feminist on my first day at EDC. Women should be able to wear whatever they want to, regardless of the influence or opinions of others. Of course, they should be smart about it too and realize the risks involved in doing so — but still, it’s their prerogative.
It’s our choice as women to do what we want with our bodies. And by the end of the night, it was my choice as a woman to put my shirt back on. (And not share any photos of my outfit. Sometimes, what happens at EDC Vegas stays at EDC Vegas.)