It took time to gain the confidence to stop wearing my everyday clothes for gigsAnn-Isabel Villatte with permission for Varsity

Whether it be David Bowie’s lightning makeup or Madonna’s cone brassiere, musicians are often remembered as much for their style as their sound. An artist’s image isn’t just a marketing tool; it’s a means of conveying their ethos and connecting with fans. Entire aesthetics develop around musical genres, aiding listeners in finding each other and forming communities. After all, knowing what to wear to a concert is part of the experience. Hence, to stand out, artists must have it all: a unique sound, an unforgettable fashion sense and an interesting story to tell.

Enter my band at Sidney Sussex. We likely have none of these things. Yet even we have seen the importance of style for standing out amid a crowded music scene. Not that fashion was always a major concern for us. Indeed, it’s difficult for a band that is just starting out to pay much attention to style. We had bigger problems like recruiting members, finding rehearsal space and selecting songs. It takes time to find your identity. For example, while we’ve always been an indie band, we only settled on our spooky name last year (following an embarrassing stint as The BNOCs), opting for what our singer Amelia calls “witchy vibes”.

“Why not bring that flair to ordinary gigs too? It’s how you’ll be remembered”

So, initially, I performed in my everyday clothing for gigs. However, as my confidence grew, I began to dress up more. This came as part of a broader realisation as to the importance of performance. It’s not enough to play the right notes at the right time; to truly engage your audience, you need to get your personality across, whether that be through your moves and between-song banter – or your style.

Obviously, with some events, your fashion is sorted for you. We couldn’t resist wearing witches’ hats for our Halloween gig at Jesus Bar, while my Amnesty International hoodie came in handy for Jamnesty at Clare Cellars. Then there was Sidney June Event, where I was already decked out in May Ball attire. But why not bring that flair to ordinary gigs too? It’s how you’ll be remembered…

We couldn't resist wearing witches' hats for our Halloween gig at Jesus BarElaine Alexander with permission for Varsity

I put this theory to the test at the Big Audition Weekend in February, where tired May Ball committee members must listen to ten hours of performances for two days straight. Sporting a plum, floral-patterned felt waistcoat, dress shirt and turquoise bow tie – all sourced from Vinted – I was determined to be remembered among this myriad of musicians. Perhaps I looked a bit silly but I hoped we looked distinctive (and May Week-worthy!). We ended up with four offers so who knows? Maybe it worked.

Someone who also put in the effort that day and, indeed, always has, is Amelia. She tailors her outfits to suit the genre of event: “If we’re playing a college bar, I’ll go for something much more casual than I would for a May Ball and, if we’re doing more upbeat covers than darker originals, I’ll go for something fun with bright colours.”

“An artist’s image is a means of conveying their ethos and connecting with fans”

She continues: “I always try to look witchy/ethereal because I think that fits our vibe best – and it’s my personal favourite. My goal is pretty much to look like Stevie Nicks!”

When asked if there were any accessories she had earmarked for gigs, Amelia responds: “I bought some long, lacy white sleeves at a vintage shop in Oxford recently and now gigs don’t feel complete without them! I like to wear something long/flowy on my arms. It gives me something to do with my hands on stage rather than feel awkward without an instrument. Before I found the sleeves, I would bring a long scarf or wrap to remind me to dance and move around because I think a performance should be visually interesting. However, now that I’ve started playing guitar on some songs, I might need to find an alternative…”

Amelia (left) at Sidney June Event alongside Ian in his duck hat (right)Gemma Penson with permission for Varsity

Amelia gets almost all her clothes from charity shops or her mum’s wardrobe. “I think you generally find more interesting and unique stuff when you go second-hand,” she explains. Her favourite outfit is the one she wore to Jamnesty because “it was fun playing with some more colour while staying true to our red-black-white-gold aesthetic”.

Yet it might be a little bold to talk of a band aesthetic. There is, for example, a clear STEM-humanities divide within the band. Our bassist and drummer, who study computer science and engineering respectively, tend to stick to a more monochrome colour palette. Nevertheless, they too introduce certain unique elements into our style – whether that be a confusingly large amount of Canada merchandise for someone who has never visited the country or a bucket hat decorated with cartoon ducks.


Mountain View

Costume designing, how hard can it be?

Indeed, while our style may lack cohesion, as Amelia acknowledges, this hardly matters: “It’s more important that everyone feels comfortable on stage. I think that comes across better to the audience than us wearing matching stuff”.

“We often joke about looking like we’re attending different events,” Amelia laughs. Yet this aesthetic reflects us well as a band. Formed through WhatsApp exchanges before we even arrived in Cambridge, we represent a mix of subjects, backgrounds, music tastes and fashion senses. Perhaps it’s our very randomness that makes us memorable. Hopefully, as we continue to play gigs and write more originals, our confidence will only grow and our sense of style with it. Long live the witchy vibes!