How to nail your festival outfit? First, ditch the fairy wings

<span>Photograph: David Newby/The Guardian. Styling: Melanie Wilkinson.</span>
Photograph: David Newby/The Guardian. Styling: Melanie Wilkinson.

Something strange happens to perfectly normal people when they go to a festival. They lose sight of the coordinates of who they really are, and therefore of what they wear, and dress as “festival revellers”. Entirely sane women who you see on the school run in low-key summer dresses and trainers suddenly appear in flower crowns and face glitter and fairy wings, as if they’re in a student production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Someone who yesterday morning was leading a meeting in tailored trousers and a crisp shirt will pop up in hot pants and a cowboy hat. It becomes borderline fancy dress very quickly. I’m all for letting your hair down and having some fun. But, guys, come on! It’s a day out, not a personality transplant.

Great festival outfits are possible, though. Look at this photo. Good, no? It’s giving dancing and good times, but has you covered for rain and mud. It’s a bit glam, but not in a precious way. It says you might have a cocktail but don’t mind drinking it from a paper cup.

Festival dressing is tricky. It needs to do a lot of practical heavy lifting, while keeping the mood light. Start with the practicals – footwear and outerwear – and infill with levity where you can.

Even if it’s hot and dry, any day that involves a Portaloo requires a covered shoe

Footwear first. Wellies are a festival field classic, and a good option if you want to wear shorts without going completely barelegged. But they feel heavy after a few hours, so unless the weather is really wet, they are a sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut choice. Walking boots, flat Chelsea boots or hiking trainers can deal with a little mud. Even if it’s hot and dry, any day that involves a Portaloo requires a covered shoe in my book, so low-cut trainers that you can chuck in the washing machine when you get home are as flimsy as I’d go.

Next, the jacket. A Barbour, like the one here, is a classic. Not cheap, but a Barbour has a Kate-Moss-Alexa-Chung heritage that makes you feel you belong with the festival cool kids. And while lots of festival looks feel a bit teenage, a Barbour works on all ages – and even back in the real world outside the gates.

If there’s any chance of rain, you need a mac with a hood. (This is no place for an umbrella.) The String W Jacket by Rains (£105) has a nice silhouette and is a good weight that will neither soak through nor weigh you down. Go for wet-look black or electric blue.

Shoes and jacket sorted, the clothes beneath can bring the party. No jumpsuits or all-in-one short sets, obviously (never forget the loo issue). If the weather is good, go for a breezy slip of a sundress. You might feel a dress like this doesn’t “go” with your practical jacket and shoes, but that’s exactly what makes it right.

The whole point of festivals is that they don’t fit the rules of normal life. You eat pizza slices at 11am and churros at midnight. You have chats with people you bump into instead of communicating by text. People who are too self-conscious to sing in the shower belt out half-remembered lyrics in public at full volume. So the salty-sweet combination of a cute dress with a gruff jacket feels appropriate.

Related: You thought nothing could beat the perfect summer dress? Think again | Jess Cartner-Morley

What’s more, the contrast will help take your look through rapidly changing temperatures – which matters, because even a balmy summer day tends to turn chilly when darkness falls. If you want to wear jeans, wear them with something contrasting and vibey – a crochet tank top, or a vintage lace blouse.

Now all you need is a bag. I love a straw basket for most of summer, but not at a festival – too wholesome, sorry. You need to get a little bit dirty today. Instead, dig out the smallest cross-body bag that you can find. Having to streamline your belongings to the bare bones is boring, but essential to keep you footloose and fancy free. And anyway, we’ve been through this, and you definitely don’t need the face glitter.

Hair and makeup: Sophie Higginson using Hair by Sam McKnight and the CurrentBody Light Therapy Mask. Jacket: Barbour. Dress: Zara. Boots: Penelope Chilvers