Once a year from the last Sunday in August through the first Monday in September, tens of thousands of campers descend on Black Rock Desert, in N.W. Nevada, to create Black Rock City (BRC). This year, 70,000 “Burners” will gather to create a temporary, capitalism free, community dedicated to creativity, otherworldly art, innumerable acts of self-expression, radical self reliance, unconditional gifting and connection. All culminating in the burning of the Temple and the proverbial Man. It is the largest, most extreme festival in the world. A transformative experience that is truly the sexiest combo of cutting edge tech, engineers, artists (conceptual and performance) and inventors, all with a dousing of ingenuity, mayhem and madness. What’s unbelievable is that this entire city only exists for one week and then completely disappears without a trace of MOOP (Material Out Of Place)!
With “radical self expression” being one of the 10 governing principles, clothing and costumes are an integral part of the Burning Man culture. Fashion participation makes you part of the art and creative spirit. It’s not “Dress to Impress” it’s “Dress to Express”! Think post apocalyptic glam! Burning Man festival fashion is fantastically outrageous, infamously skimpy and some of it functional. Google Burning Man fashion sometime, it’s pretty astounding, but word to the wise, it’s a slippery slope and you could get sucked down a photo rabbit hole! So, to be helpful, I decided to make a fashion checklist for first time burners:
- Goggles – The wraparound kind for surviving white out, alkali dust storms. Which I got slammed by the second I stepped off the Burner Bus. My favorite are the Steam Punk style.
- Scarves or bandanas – To cover your nose and mouth in said dust storm.
- Boots – the alkali dust will eat up your feet pretty badly, so close toed shoes and socks are a must, and boots are more sturdy than tennies.
- Jacket – It gets COLD in the desert at night! Over 100° during the day but sometimes gets to 40° at night. I love the faux fur jackets.
- LED neon light strings – This is a must at night, it’s pitch black out there and if you don’t want to be run over by a mutant art car, or an intoxicated bicycler than you need to be lit up like a Vegas hotel. You can sow strings of LED lights into your jacket, or wrap them on wrists and neck as jewelry.
- Hats – any kind of protective headgear because again 100° plus temperatures are beating down on your head. My favorites are the military caps, bowlers and tophats.
- Parasols – Fun, funky umbrellas to create your own shade and prevent heat stroke.
- Fanny Pack – No, not your mom’s old school kind, but a”Mad Max” type, leather utility belt that can hold essentials like lip balm, electrolyte tabs, phone, a spoon, and a clip to hook a cup and water bottle. Remember, everyone is responsible for their own trash so there are no disposable utensils on the playa to create extra MOOP. If you don’t have your own cup or spoon, camps won’t be able to serve you.
- No Sequins or Feathers – for the same MOOP reason- some people still do it, but veteran burners hate it.
- Braids – Because your hair will be so disgusting by the end of the week you will not even be able to put a brush through it, and I’m not exaggerating!
- Tutu Tuesdays – Nuf said.
- White Wednesdays – Self-explanatory. There’s also a Unicorn Stampede that afternoon …so don’t forget your horn. And a Billion Bunny March (dress as a carrot or a bunny).
- Fishnet Friday – None of these are mandatory by the way.
- Bikes – You must have a bike to get around, so you might as well dress it up as well! Plus they usually have a basket for carrying extras like jackets and water. Wrap it with a zillion neon LED lights so that you’re easily visible at night. And most IMPORTANTLY, rent an electric bike if you can get your hands on one, work it out in advance, they’re a lot more expensive but so worth it! Paddling in 3 inch deep, soft dirt in 100° for miles and miles all day and night is absolutely exhausting!
- Have Fun Dressing to Express – Model your inner Goddess, Gypsy, Steam Punk, Cleopatra, Disco Darling, African Queen, Indian Princess, Pagan Priestess or Rock Star. Think animal prints, neon cyber punk, fringe, body chains, faux fur, headdresses, huge statement jewelry or tribal pieces. Winged goggles, spiked military hats, chain mail, tutus, combat boots, decorative bras, anything goes! Radically express your inner sparkle pony!
Keep in mind that the dust won’t come out of anything, so don’t spend a ton on things you’ll probably have to toss. Thrift stores (Buffalo exchange and Iguana in LA) are great places to start, and Etsy is like, the festival fashion motherload!
Be prepared to throw out all your preconceived notions of what Burning Man is or what it might be, based on others’ opinions. Everyone comes away with a unique and individual experience, which can include being totally overwhelmed. But there is nothing else like this on the planet. The late Larry Harvey’s vision “to create a more creative and generous world for the participants to give birth to new experiences and expand the boundaries of what creators could attempt”. – The absurd, the stunning, the sublime.