Heading down to Austin, TX for South-by-South-West and want to know what to pack to look right? Well, that depends on what part of SXSW you’re going to … as it’s actually three major festivals, plus other associated conferences, all under the one banner.
SXSW started as a music festival back in 1987, and it has constantly grown to be the largest of its kind, with a couple of thousand acts appearing at over a hundred venues around Austin (whose official motto is “Live Music Capital of the World”). However, over the past quarter century, the event has expanded to include an extensive Film festival, and the much-heralded “Interactive” portion which has become one of the primary places for making big splashy tech introductions.
Since the entire SXSW program runs for over a week, most people are only around for part of it, and the three different festivals are ticketed separately (unless one has a “gold” or “platinum” pass). Give that there are tens of thousands of people attending SXSW, one of the main challenges is finding a place to stay, and your wardrobe needs to adapt depending on if you’re in a hotel, “couch-surfing” at somebody’s place, or even camping.
All three Festivals have some common features, so let’s look at those first. Austin, TX in mid-March is likely to have daytime temperatures in the 70’s (which can end up in the mid-80’s) and nights around 50°, with a fairly constant “partly cloudy” sky, and a daily chance of precipitation around 40%. This means that you’re not likely to need a heavy jacket, but you should probably be prepared to “layer” as needed. You’re also likely to be walking and standing quite a lot, so one of the first concerns, for any of the festivals, would be for comfortable (and possibly mud-resistant) footwear.
Are you going down for the music? Well, you’ll be outside a lot, walking between venues a lot, and in and out of air conditioning, so going for comfort and layering are probably the key elements here. Nobody is going to blink an eye if you’re rocking out with 55,000 of your fellow concert goers at one of the big outdoor stages in jeans and a t-shirt, but you can certainly opt to “dress it up” a bit more, especially if heading off to posher venues in the evenings. Going with a long-sleeve look is also a good bet, providing sun protection when outside, and giving you a base for clubs with more aggressive a/c.
How about the Film Festival? This is the longest-running part of SXSW, with eight days of programming. Obviously, for large periods of time you’ll be sitting in dark air-conditioned spaces, likely interspersed with significant amounts of walking (given the huge numbers of attendees, walking is often the best bet for getting around Austin during SXSW) between theaters. In this case you’d probably want to opt for something a bit less casual than the music attendees are wearing, perhaps with a jacket to keep comfortable while watching the movies.
Finally, the “Interactive” SXSW … this has become notorious as a geek launch/party zone, as everybody gets to check out the latest new platforms, services, and gadgets, some of which (like Twitter in 2007 and Foursquare in 2009) will come blasting out of Austin and into wide-spread public awareness by the buzz built up there. While much of the “buzz” gets built in the numerous sponsored parties around town every evening, the basic business of this Festival is done in convention halls and conference centers, so the general attire is in the range of “tech very casual” to “start-up business casual”, with perhaps the occasional “suit” thrown in for good measure. If you’re a programmer used to working in jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers, you can probably just bring your usual wardrobe along, but for most folks a relaxed business casual (with some “hipster” twists) look would fit in. Again, comfort is a concern, as there are a lot of lines, a lot of walking between presentations, and you want to conserve as much energy as possible to get through those late-night parties!
In any case, it is a big Spring event, so colors, patterns, and accessories can certainly be themed towards that look.