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What To Wear to the Burning Man Festival

Note: There’s nudity in the this post if you’re vulnerable to such things. Also, all pictures are mine except a few by Will Smith.

burning man costume

I’m getting ready for another trek to Burning Man and this time I’ve got some newbies going with me. Amid the many questions they’re asking is “what should I wear”? They see pictures of the festival with all the crazy outfits, and wonder if there’s a method to the madness of burner garb. Well, not really. But there are recommendations and here are mine:

The first option is easy: go naked. Burning man is a place where humans’ weird neuroses about their true appearance doesn’t really exist (or at least is significantly diminished). You can do the festival from beginning to end not wearing a stitch and no one will complain. That being said, for practical considerations you might also include:

  • 2 wide-brimmed hats with strings
  • 1 pair of tinted day goggles
  • 1 pair of clear night goggles
  • 1 extra pair of sunglasses
  • Sturdy footwear you can walk for miles in and will protect your feet from dust
  • Warm weather clothing (for 90-100 degree days)
  • Cold weather clothing (for 30-50 degree nights)
  • 2 handkerchiefs, bandannas, or shemanges for covering you nose and mouth against the dust
  • Stuff to make you glow or blink at night

Pragmatics of Burning Costumes

Here are WHY you might want to pack the aforementioned items:

The Temperature - temperatures at Burning Man hover about 100* during the day to sometimes in the mid 30s at night. You’re going to need clothing that will account for both extremes. Rain is hardly an issue (although it did rain once when I was there for about an hour).

The Sun - there is zero shade on the playa except that which is provided by people tents. You’ll want some sort of headgear so you won’t get burned and it should have a string to keep it on because…

The Wind - Burning Man always has a lot of wind and it will rip hats off heads quite easily. Make sure you hats have strings to keep them on and avoid clothing with feathers or any other easily blown-away elements. The wind is also why goggle are recommended over sunglasses and they’ll stay on in a dust storm.

The Aridity – The playa is extremely arid. Your lips will crack in just a few hours if you don’t have lip balm on them. So any clothing vulnerable to drying out (like leather) will suffer a lot of stress. I once destroyed a nice pair of hiking boots this way. Don’t bring such items if you want to use them after the festival.

The Dust – The ubiquitous playa dust gets everywhere is actually mildly alkaline. When whipped against you skin by the high winds it can really sting. For these reasons you’ll probably want something to keep it out of your nose and mouth – hence the bandanas; and out of your eyes – hence the goggles. Also, some people find the dust really aggravates their skin (particularly their feet) so bring at least one good pair of close-toed shoes.

The Distances - And speaking of shoes you will probably be walking a lot (as in many miles a day) so make sure you have footwear that’s comfortable and up to the task. You clothing, in general should be geared to move and bike around so avoid garb that’s restrictive or uncomfortable to get about in.

The Darkness - Burning Man is VERY dark at night and if you don’t make yourself visible with something that glows or flashes you will get run over by bikers or an art car. Glow sticks, el wire, even bike lights can all work fine just a make sure you bring enough to last all week and you illuminate both your front and back.

And finally:

Redundancy - You’ll note I’m listing two of many things. This is because you can’t buy replacements at Burning Man. If you loose your day goggles you’ll be squinting for the rest of the week. Pack extras!

Aesthetics

To me, Burning Man costumes are the chaotic union of drag queens and superheroes. Bright, colorful, sexy, and over-the-top. You should feel free to channel you inner 10-year-old, explore gender roles, and be as creative as you like. Here are a few specific suggestions:

Avoid Specific Characters - Burning man isn’t really a costume party so you might want to avoid dressing as specific characters unless you put your own creative spin on it. Batman or Kermit the frog just won’t work, but Bat-Kermit might be perfect.

Embrace Color - Black clothing on the playa looks cool for about 15 seconds. Then it turns grey and streaked with playa dust and looks just shabby for the rest of the week. Bright colors look much better IMHO than drab and dark ones.

Try Some Tropes – Burning Man is know for a bunch of specific costume tropes and you can get a lot of ideas by embracing them. They include:

  • Goggles – in all shapes and sizes and often just for show.
  • Tutus (particularly on Tuesday) – embraced by both men and women
  • Sarongs for men – some guys look really hot in wraps. Try a sarong, kirkoy, or the like.
  • Bodysuits – full body lycra suits have all sorts of possibilities
  • Body Paint – a good way to spice up the nude option.
  • Wild braided hair & colorful wigs – very popular with the ladies

Ultimately, your costume should embody one of the ten principles of Burning Man: radical Self-expression. It should say something about you in a big and extreme way. In the real world you dress is bound heavily by the expectations of others. You boss want’s professional, you parents may want clean-cut, and American law enforcement certainly wants “modesty”. But for one week in a desert in Nevada you can be entirely selfish in how you appear. So take some risks, have some fun, and always remember: SAFETY THIRD!

Costume Examples

Pemmican

Pemmican

Note: the picture above isn’t actual pemmican but a great looking prop created by Tom at Cephalopod Productions. It looked so much better that real pictures of the stuff I couldn’t resist using it. Brilliant stuff for you next Lovecraft game!

I’d really like to try making some pemmican and taking it on a trip. According to Wikipedia:

“Pemmican is a concentrated mixture of fat and protein used as a nutritious food.”

It’s essentially dried meat/fat balls/blocks/strips used by explorers in the arctic. It’s packs a lot of energy into a very small size and is stable at room temperature for a very long time. I can’t imagine I’d add it as a everyday staple to my diet but for camping or the like it looks ideal. Mark on his blog “Mark’s Daily Apple” has a complete rundown on making the stuff and what to expect. It doesn’t look all that involved and I think it would be fun to hand out to folks at Burning Man as a gift.

Other pemmican resources:

Older Metro Aesthetics

Original-metro-1

The new Silver Line is opening in the DC Metro today and while I’m always happy to see an expansion of our fine system the word is that it will significantly slow down my commute. :(

Ah, well.

Our Metro system is changed a lot over the years and though many things of been improved upon, I think it’s design has suffered. The original Metro design was simply great. I know brutalism isn’t for everyone, but this was quite well done and I particular like the color schemes that they used. The warm browns and oranges served as a great contrast to the cooler concrete colors that surrounded them.

Unfortunately there’s a trend to move all the cars and signage to that most boring and bureaucratic of color schemes: blue and gray. Sigh. Dull and not nearly as good accent colors against an already gray/green interior. Add to this all the bolted on objects, and bad advertisements plastered in strange places and the system’s once great design is beginning to look fractures and sloppy.

So I enjoy every time I get on with the older cars with its warm lighting, and warm colors, I just feel so much more relaxed than the newer cars which are over-lighted and harsher interior.

Original dc metro cars

Oh, and while I’m on the topic of the DC Metro’s past, here’s a early fascinating PSA from on it:

Cargo Cult

Cargo Cult

Album: Citizen Fitz
Date Released: March 11, 2014
Written by: Fitz
Tempo: 135 BPM

Lyrics

The Radio crackled from one side
A bunch of nonsense till its batteries died
But savage eyes were already wide
With wonder

Cargo cult and legacy
Trinkits wash up from the sea
Shining with divinity so bright

Cargo cult and all is well
Dance into that fiery spell
Linen suits can never quell your light

And now a temple has grown in the field
Inside is a shrine stands to the surreal
Before the Radio savages kneel
With wonder

CHORUS: REPEAT

(bridge)

CHORUS: REPEAT

Notes

John Frum

Amelia Earhart Day

Amelia Earhart

Welcome to the official Amelia Earhart day.