What to Wear to Burning Man
You can literally wear anything –or nothing at all– to Burning Man. Which is probably why planning your clothes for the Burn can be overwhelming. Especially if you’ve googled “Burning Man Fashion” only to find hundreds of images of models in elaborate costumes or in clothes too revealing to feel comfortable in. In reality, many of those models were dressed for the photo shoot, not for playing all day and dancing all night in this spectacular playground.
This will be my tenth burn and I’m still refining what I wear and where I source it, always seeking to reduce the environmental impact of an admittedly carbon-intensive festival. Here are some of what I learned on how to dress for a transformative week:
1. Dress for Movement
Find clothes you will be comfortable in and won’t limit your movement because there are sculptures to climb, trampolines to jump on, swings, even a roller disco. Onesies are great, but they make using the porta potties extra challenging.
Another note on long skirts, scarves, and dresses: secure them while riding bikes so the extra fabric doesn’t get caught in your bike wheel. I’ve helped many burners detangle skirts, scarves, and kimonos from their gear trains.
2. Dress for the Elements
Black Rock City, like any desert, can get very hot on the playa during the day and very cold at night. Clothes to keep you cool and/or shield you from the sun for the day are helpful, as well as a warm coat/clothes for the cold nights.
Then there is the dust, which is extremely alkaline and will dry out your skin, nostrils and cuticles. Boots or high-tops will cover the ankles and keep dust from getting in your shoe or socks. You will need masks, scarfs, keffiyehs, or bandanas to cover your nose and mouth to keep from breathing the dust. You will need goggles for both day and night (tinted and clear) to see in dust storms. Sunglasses for the bright sun, and gloves to protect your hands while setting up or tearing down camp.
I always bring a few hats (snug fitting or with a chinstrap/ties to keep them from blowing off on a windy bike ride). And hoods to cover dusty hair.
3. Dress on Principle
Burning Man has 10 principles that we are all expected to live by at the festival. 3 of them apply to what and how you dress:
Leave No Trace
The tiny feathers, false eyelashes, hair extensions and face jewels that end up in the dust are gathered BY HAND after the festival by a team of volunteers. My first burn, I wore a gorgeous vintage sequin gown which looked spectacular in the sunlight but, after dancing for an hour, looked like a clean-up crew’s nightmare: hundreds of sequins had fallen off. Ugh. So now I wear clothes which won’t shed and become MOOP (“Matter out of place”, aka rubbish). So check to see if the materials are secure and will hold up to wear.
Another Burning Man principle is decommodification, which means don’t wear clothes which display brand names. On a more conscious level, it also means not buying into commodified festival culture and fast fashion (I.E. buying everything at Dolls Kill or iHEARTRAVE).
This is your invitation to create something. Make a headpiece, bedazzle your sunglasses, sew a costume, upcycle your clothes.
4. Get Lit
At night, there are tens of thousands of people on bikes and art cars, many not sober. So it is vital (literally) you stay lit at night. LED lights will keep you seen. Thought these battery-powered lights are all made in China from plastics, they are a necessary evil to keep safe, but if someone out there knows of a more eco brand, please let us know.
5. Appreciate, don’t appropriate
Be inspired by and incorporate elements from cultures all over the world, but do so with respect. For example, please don’t wear feather headdresses (if you don’t know why, here’s a read), but feel free to rock those Indigenous-made earrings.
Off the playa, many styles of braids would be considered cultural appropriation, but due to the nature of the alkaline dust, braids are practical in keeping your hair from becoming matted and knotted, especially without access to showers. If you wear braids, opt for styles traditional to your own ancestry.
Where to Shop (And not Shop)
1. Vintage & Thrift stores
Not only are these more eco than buying new, you can find some wonderful & weird items in thrift stores to express your inner weird.
Classics to look out for:
- Military Jumpsuits
- ski goggles
- furry jackets
- marching band suits
- beach coverups
- figure skating costumes
2. Support artisans
3. Clothes Swap
In a local camp? Organize a playa clothes swap. If your camp isn’t local, invite your festival friends to swap before this burn.
4. Upcyle your clothes
I’ve sewn el wire on an old Christmas party dress, transforming it into an illuminated costume that I even wore to a wedding reception after the burn. What’s in your closet that you’re willing to transform and get dusty? A large patch could make an old robe something spectacular. Get creative.
5. At the Burn
There are camps on the playa which bring tons of burner clothes, like Kostume Kult. You’ll have to walk their runway in whatever you find, but that’s part of the fun.
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