The Fashion of Jazz Fest: BayouWear
Apr 17 2019

The Fashion of Jazz Fest: BayouWear

By: Kathy Bradshaw

BayouWear, “A Funky American Fashion Brand Flowing from the Bayou”


What comes to mind when you think of Jazz Fest? Is it the smell of crawfish etouffée and fried oysters wafting through the air? The feel of the hot sun burning your skin and the mud squishing between your sandaled toes? Is it the sounds of your favorite bands playing or the Mardi Gras Indians chanting? Or, is it the sight of countless festival-goers wearing what looks like New Orleans-themed Hawaiian shirts, sundresses, and other such attire: bright and festive clothing covered with fun designs—like red beans and rice, green alligators, chili peppers, and jazz guitars?

This iconic, vibrant, New Orleans-centric apparel is called BayouWear, and it’s as much a part of Jazz Fest as Crawfish Monica or the Blues Tent.

BayouWear was created in 1981 to accompany the Jazz Fest poster that year. The poster design was emblazoned across a natural-fiber, casual, button-down shirt, known as a HowAhYa Shirt—those famously flashy Hawaiian-style shirts that we still see brightening up the Fair Grounds today. But what started out as just shirts has long since branched out into a line of products that includes camisoles, skirts, shorts, aprons, and even “sunbrellas.” In fact, BayouWear has become one of the most successful American clothing brands, and their online sales are already ten times more than they were just last year. 

These days, the designs are no longer coordinated with the Jazz Fest posters, but are created specifically for BayouWear by talented artists and encompass a myriad of Louisiana-friendly motifs. Bud Brimberg, BayouWear founder and owner, explains, “From the beginning, the fabric designs have drawn inspiration from the food, culture, and unique environment of New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana. We’ve drawn on magnolias, Mardi Gras Indian suits, the SeaSaint recording studio, camouflage, pelicans, gumbo, Louisiana irises, brass instruments, drums, and the Jazz Fest logo.” 

But with such a rich culture in the area, there are so many different things that represent New Orleans, from food to fleur de lis, streetcars to street lamps. So, how does Brimberg and his team choose the inspiration behind their patterns? To explain the design selection process, Brimberg makes a very appropriate comparison: “It’s like food,” he says. “We check the pantry to see what’s ripe. Some ideas need to simmer to make them ready. Some ideas get overcooked and are tossed in the freezer for another time. Others are eaten right out of the box. All go through an extended finishing process to make them visually tasty.”

The Fashion of Jazz Fest: BayouWear

The BayouWear tent is always one of the most popular stops at Jazz Fest and is usually packed with fest-ers seeking a cool souvenir. There, you’ll find samples of the various clothing patterns, styles, and sizes available, along with a couple dressing rooms to try them all out. In cooperation with art4now, the BayouWear tent also sells Jazz Fest posters and postcards from both the present year and many previous years.

The popularity of the clothing line is indicated by the crowds of people crammed into the tent to shop. Lines often rival those at some of the more sought-after food vendors. But don’t let that dissuade you. The lines move rather quickly, and besides, a good crawfish dress or accordion-bedecked shirt will outlast any crawfish beignet or roast beef po-boy you might get. Even Jazz Fest memories fade—especially drunken ones—but BayouWear doesn’t. The colors of the clothing are guaranteed to stay bright, since BayouWear uses a special fabric printing process, similar to that used for silkscreen posters, which was invented by Brimberg himself. “The techniques [we] pioneered are evident in the rich shading and detail still found only in BayouWear brand clothing,” Brimberg says.

Much like Jazz Fest itself, BayouWear appeals to a wide variety of folks, from the young and trendy to the old and hip generations, as well as to the more classically dressed of all ages. There’s a style and a pattern for all tastes. The HowAhYa shirts are still the best-selling item, due to their history and “unisexiness,” but the dresses, shorts, skirts, and camisoles allow BayouWear to cover a much broader range of fashions and occasions. “People coming to Jazz Fest—or going anywhere they want to fly their colors—wear BayouWear,” Brimberg says. “As fashion has diversified away from black and bland, more people are wearing BayouWear day and night, to the beach as much as to clubs, resorts, and just hanging out.” Therefore, in addition to being cheerful and emblematic, these clothes are also versatile, practical, and durable. “It’s become go-to clothing for vacations in warm climates because it’s flattering, comfortable, packs easily, and is wash-and-wear,” Brimberg adds.

The Fashion of Jazz Fest: BayouWear

In honor of Jazz Fest’s 50th anniversary this year, BayouWear is presenting a celebratory 50th year pattern, with the goal of “summarizing Jazz Fest’s first half-century.” Brimberg, along with Jazz Fest Associate Producer Louis Edwards, identified the “dancing man logo” as the most iconic symbol of Jazz Fest. So, this year’s design incorporates that logo, which shows a man high-stepping it with a parasol, as if in a second line. The pattern is scattered across the fabric, interspersed with the insignia “NOJF [New Orleans Jazz Fest] 1970,” which was the first year of the fest. The colors are shades of pink, turquoise, and orange, and the overall effect gives the design a definite 70s vibe. Brimberg describes it as a “psychedelic echo patterning coupled with an updated palette from the period.” BayouWear is also rolling out some special edition 50th-anniversary jewelry with this same design, including logo cufflinks, so you can wear your Jazz Fest pride on your sleeve.

There’s just something about Jazz Fest: the music, the food, the culture, the Louisiana artists selling their wares, and that unidentifiable mysterious allure that brings hundreds of thousands of people to the Fair Grounds every year for one of the country’s most popular festivals. Why do we all love Jazz Fest so much? Sometimes it’s hard to say, exactly. But while you might not be able to put your finger on it, you can still put it on. Because BayouWear is like wearing the spirit of Jazz Fest. It’s everything you love about the festival—and New Orleans in general—in fashionable form. It lets you bring a little Jazz Fest magic home with you. And that surely explains why the clothing line is so endlessly popular. Not to mention that although the fest only comes around once a year, BayouWear is timeless—as well as colorful, attention-grabbing, and happy. “People love it because it sparks conversations wherever they go,” Brimberg says. “Like New Orleans, BayouWear is uniquely unusual in a way that makes everyone feel good.” 

For more information on BayouWear or to purchase clothing, go to art4now.com

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