Personal expression is one of the Burning Man principles, so allow yourself total freedom in what you wear (ensuring your basic needs for warmth and protection from the elements are met).
If creating fun accessories and costumes excites you, DO IT— this is the place to wear practically anything that pleases you. If you aren’t the DIY costuming type, but there are things you’ve always wanted to wear but didn’t have a place to, you can go for it here! Go nuts in thrift shops, costume shops, etc etc, buying the whatever you wished you could pull off IRL. Maybe that outfit is your birthday suit (accessorized by SO MUCH SUNSCREEN). The desert is your oyster; now is your chance to be as fabulous as you want to be.
If the thought of planning/creating/buying creative outfits for a rustic camping trip (that is already a ton of work to prep for) doesn’t interest you, pack whatever clothes you’re comfortable in (keeping in mind, they may get damaged), and know that just having the basic BM necessities (dust scarf/mask, goggles, backpack, sun hat, etc) will make you look ‘Burner’ enough.
As cool as ornately-decorated steampunk outfits are, many attendees (such as myself) are travelling long distances and are limited to the essentials. For example, in lieu of costumes, I’ve brought regular summer/camping clothes, + required BM survival gear, and a warm animal onesie to wear on cold nights. So far so good. See Ty’s packing list for more info.
Ruh Roh: What NOT to Wear
I basically told to reach for the stars, and now I’m taking it back. Not to be a killjoy, but some items are not welcome at BRC.
#1: Culturally inappropriate clothing
According to the Oxford dictionary, the definition of cultural appropriation is: the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.
While I’m uncomfortable with Whitesplaining this, I’ll do my best (please critique, I have plenty to learn in this area). I take it to mean that we aren’t to dress up as a culture that is not our own. Examples of cultural appropriation include white people dressing in stereotypes, such as posing as Mexican (such as wearing a sombrero, moustache, etc), Native Americans (wearing feather headdress, war bonnet, leather fringe, etc), Asians (white-faced Geisha, kimonos), Indians (sari’s, bindi’s, etc), Blacks (afro wigs, Rastafarian hats, dreads, cornrows, microbraids), etc. Breaking this rule makes you look like an ignorant D-bag, reflects poorly on your camp, and most importantly, reinforces hurtful stereotypes, misrepresenting and alienating people belonging to that culture.
Everyone deserves to have a good time at BM, so let’s be good to one another other, K? Here’s an impactful blog post that covers it better than I could.
Last year I saw four Native American headdresses…all worn by white people (3 guys, 1 girl). We have more work to do, so my goal with our camp is that we are well informed before we arrive on playa. I’d love to come up with a way to gently educate those we encounter wearing them…ideas?
Although your intentions may be good, and in your eyes, you’re wearing something because you appreciate the culture it comes from (I’ve been there too), it may not feel that way to the person belonging to it. Remember, being 3% of XYZ ethnicity of a culture you do not practice, does not give full-reign to dress like them.
Interesting fact: Burning Man is held on Paiute (Native American) land. All the more reason to be respectful in our expression…
I’ve read contradicting info about whether or not feathers are allowed, (certainly no feather boas, or anything with fluffy or loose feathers), but for simplicity’s sake, I’d like our camp to not bring any. Feathers can leave tiny fragments of MOOP that are a challenge to tweeze out of the playa. Now, if a true Native American is wearing feathers, that’s fine by me (there will be members of the local Paiute community there), but for the rest of us, let’s leave these at home.
Confession: Not being aware of this my first Burn, I wore feather earrings. While they stayed intact, I won’t be breaking this rule again. I also wonder if feather earrings are an example of appropriating culture? Gah. :/
#3: Brand Logos
Visible brands aren’t welcome at BRC, as it is a non-commercial environment. It doesn’t matter how comfortable your favorite hoodie is, if it acts as a billboard for another brand, you’ll need to leave it at home. One thing I look forward to is seeing how attendees disguise the giant brand logos on their rental trucks. There are some really clever ones.
#4 MOOP-y items
This is inline with the feather category, and includes anything that runs the risk of coming loose and falling onto the ground. This includes things like ragged fringes (the kind that shed string fragments), linty clothing, sequins/beads literally hanging on a loose thread, and most importantly, NO GLITTER. So while you pack, scrutinize each item to ensure it is well-intact, with zero potential of leaving any trace. I realize this sounds intense, but trust me, you can do it : )
Confession time: My first Burn, someone gave me a silk flower for my bike, which I thought was a pretty cool gift, since I hadn’t decorated mine with anything but the mandatory lights. I attached it and happily rode around…until I noticed that parts of it had started to disintegrate. Tiny fragments would have been blown all over the playa thanks to me, left for someone else to painstakingly clean up post-event. Ugh, I felt bad. The thought of of 80,000 people making well-meaning mistakes like that, and it puts the BRC at risk of losing the privilege to run the event forever…so let’s be especially mindful.
#5 Anything Precious
Stating the obvious, but this environment isn’t meant for your most cherished items. Leave your valuables at home, as they could be lost, damaged (even stolen — it unfortunately does happen). If you have a favourite irreplaceable item, don’t bring it! That said, I’ve packed the same clothes for each burn and they’ve survived pretty well. My brand new hiking boots took some damage, and the zipper of our old-but-reliable tent was permanently destroyed the first year we brought it, but all in all, we fared ok.
Packing Tipz: Clothing
Things to keep in mind while packing clothing for BM:
- Find out how much space you have available for transporting your items; if you’re carpooling with others, priority will be given for essentials like food/water/shelter, thus limiting your room for fun personal items.
- Pack for extreme temperatures; desert temps fluctuate greatly
- Bring COMPACT layers to carry in your daypack (because cutting an adventure short to trek back for supplies is awesome, said no one ever). The more compact your layers, the more easily you can fit them in your daypack along with snacks, sunscreen, water, etc etc.
- Think about what you can bring that is both comfortable and practical —you will lean on these! For example, I tend to wear sundresses, but keep a pair of leggings, thin sweater, shell jacket, and a scarf in my backpack with me, in case the temperature changes (as it inevitably does at sundown if not sooner).
- Bring some fun accessories! These don’t have to take up much space, and can add pizzaz to your regular clothes. For example, I have a rainbow fanny pack with speakers built in that I regularly wear. It’s so wrong that it’s almost right again (and it’s handy). I also splurged last year and bought myself a pair of prismatic combat boots with detachable wings. They are super comfy, so fun to wear, and jazz up my basic wardrobe like whoa (not to mention, a great conversation starter!)
- Zippered clothing can be tricky, as alkaline dust tends to wreck zippers. If you have the option, heavy duty plastic YKK zippers fare best on the playa.
- Don’t bring stuff that is going to shed, fall off, or fall apart! Feathers, lose sequins, ragged fringe, glitter, etc, can be susceptible to leaving a trace, and that’s 10000% not ok. Make sure you bring items that will not leave fragments throughout the playa.
DIY BURN FASHUNZ
Stuff to decorate, if you don’t have space for costumes (and want them):
- Goggles (I’ve hyperlinked a guide)
- Bike (practically an extension of your outfit)
- Water bottle
- Fanny pack
- And/or whatever else you plan on bringing!
If it fancies you to
bling personalize your gear, then get out those crafting supplies and hop to it! Be sure to affix ’em REAL GOOD though, with LEGIT cement glue (NOT A GLUE GUN) so that none of your sheeeit can fall off. If you’re not up for buying cement glue (or something just as permanent), then forget the DIY, there’s no shame in not being decorated. I haven’t personalized/decorated anything but my bike and backpack with lights (a necessity). A decorating party as a group leading up to the Burn would be fun though.
Ideas? Comments? Hit me below!