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.
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.
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!
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!