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What to Wear to Burning Man: Your Ultimate Guide for Fashion and Survival

What is Burning Man? It's not just a "festival", it's a community, an experiment in art, self-expression, and radical self-reliance, all set against the stark beauty of the Black Rock Desert. It's about not only surviving but thriving in the harshest of conditions.

As such, deciding what to wear to Burning Man goes beyond mere fashion choices—it's about expressing your identity and attempting to be as comfortable as possible given the extreme conditions. Here are some tips on balancing style, comfort, and practicality in your Burning Man attire- call it your Fashion Survival Guide. Core Principles of Burning Man Fashion

  • Self-Expression: Your attire is a canvas for creativity. Whether you lean towards flamboyant costumes or minimalist chic, let your personal style shine.. BUT keep in mind...

  • Practicality: Comfort and functionality should NEVER take a backseat when it comes to your outfit choices. Your survival and enjoyment depend on being well-prepared for the desert's challenges and what you wear has a huge impact on this.

  • Radical Self-reliance: Always carry survival elements—water, sunscreen, lip balm, goggles, and hand sanitizer in a utility belt, multi-pocket vest or backpack.

Understanding the Environment

Before you dive into your wardrobe, it's crucial to understand the environment you'll be stepping into. The Black Rock Desert is notorious for its scorching days, chilly nights, and unpredictable dust storms. Your attire must be versatile enough to navigate these extremes. The extreme weather of the Black Rock Desert affects everyone differently. If you're from Arizona you'll be more accustomed to that climate than say me who lives in a rainforest closer to Alaska than Nevada. So just be aware of what your "normal" weather is and let that help guide you in making outfit choices.

Essential Clothing Items

  • Daywear: Opt for light, breathable fabrics. A wide-brimmed hat, UV protection sunglasses, and comfortable shoes or boots.

  • Nightwear: Layer up with warm jackets or coats, thermal leggings, and accessories like gloves and scarves to fend off the desert chill.

  • Dust Protection: Goggles and face masks are non-negotiables for dust storms but they also double as funky fashion accessories. Always have goggles and a facemask with you at all times. Also don't forget dust storms can hit day or night so it's best to have a pair of goggles with tinted lenses for the day and clear lenses for night so you can still see.

Burning Man Aesthetic

The typical Burning Man outfit aesthetic is a kaleidoscope of creativity and radical self-expression, where the mundane meets the fantastical. Burners, often don attire that blurs the lines between costume and clothing, drawing inspiration from a variety of aesthetics—steampunk, bohemian, post-apocalyptic, and futuristic styles merge to create looks that are as unique as the individuals themselves. Of course, you'll also see people out there dressed in their "normie" clothes too, which is fine if that's how they choose to express themselves.

There are very few no-no's when it comes to Burning Man outfits. 1. Avoid wearing clothes with logos. Wearing clothes with visible logos or brands goes against the decommodification principle by inadvertently bringing the default world's commercialism into a space striving to be free of it. 2. Avoid inappropriate cultural appropriation attire. Wearing accessories or clothing that appropriates cultural symbols, attire, or sacred items without understanding or respecting their significance is considered disrespectful and is frowned upon. It's essential to consider the origins and meanings of your attire choices and to avoid perpetuating stereotypes or disrespecting cultural heritages. 3. Avoid shirt cocking (wearing a shirt but no bottoms) While nudity and various states of undress are not uncommon and are often embraced as part of the event's culture of self-expression, the practice of shirt cocking can be perceived as lacking in creativity or effort in participation

4. Avoid feathers, sequins or mirror tiles on your outfits. These items can easily detach from clothing or accessories and become MOOP (Matter Out of Place). The ethos of Leave No Trace is central to the event, and these items, which are difficult to clean up and harmful to the environment, contradict this principle.

LASTLY as a suggestion- Avoid bringing special or sentimental clothing or accessories to Burning Man.. it might seem like a good idea but the alkaline dust in the Black Rock Desert is relentless and can be incredibly damaging. It gets everywhere and into everything, often leaving a fine layer that's difficult, if not impossible, to completely remove. Special clothing or sentimental accessories can be permanently damaged by the dust.

Also, the environment at Burning Man is chaotic and unpredictable. Items can easily be lost or damaged amidst the vast, open desert, large crowds, and the general mayhem of activities and events. The emotional impact of losing something that holds significant personal value can be distressing, potentially overshadowing the positive experiences of the event... just keep that in mind before you pack that heirloom necklace from Grandma or that one-of-a-kind jacket you got from your best friend who passed away.

Accessorizing for Function

Functional accessories are important during the day and night -don't forget to illuminate yourself with light-up accessories, led clothing and reflective items, ensuring you're visible in the sea of festivities in the evening. You don't want to be a darkwad (someone who blends in with the darkness) it's dangerous for you and the people around you. Burners will call you out for being a darkwad, generally in a snarky tone.

Utility belts or backpacks are not just practical; they're style statements that keep your essentials handy. Hydration backpacks in my opinion are the best option because you can carry water and essential items in one place. Clip carabiners onto your backpack or belt to carry extra items like your cup, goggles, etc.

Footwear: Choose Comfort Over Style

Your feet will thank you for choosing durable, comfortable footwear- bring a few different styles think combat-style boots, hikers, and sneakers. (Also bring a lot of socks made from cotton and wool) While the heat of the desert might tempt you with the idea of sandals or going barefoot, it's best to keep as much dust off your feet as possible. The alkaline dust can cause something called "Playa Foot" which is essentially a chemical burn - not nice. If you bring sandals, wear them sparingly- around camp or on a quick trip to the poroto. Treat your feet well while in BRC (Black Rock City), they will be carrying you miles and miles each day. There's SO much to see and do, and it's best to do it without painful feet.

DIY Costumes Pieces and Outfits

Burning Man is the perfect backdrop for fashion DIY enthusiasts. From simple, thematic attire to elaborate costumes, consider upcycling materials for your unique creation, aligning with the festival's sustainable ethos. Just make sure your DIY attire doesn't create "moop" (Matter Out Of Place) like feathers, sequins, or mirror tiles that can pollute the Black Rock Desert when they fall off.

Sustainability in Festival Fashion

In line with Burning Man's Leave No Trace principle, prioritize eco-friendly fashion choices. Support brands that value sustainability- avoid fast fashion brands, or better yet, buy second-hand. I love to visit Thrift Stores to find unique items for my outfits, there are lots on the way to the Burn and there are even Thrift Stores at BRC. My faveorite is the Black Rock City Boutique, me and my friends will stop there a couple of times and even bring some stuff to donate.

Crafting your Burning Man wardrobe is an exciting journey of self-expression and preparation. By blending practicality with personal style, you'll not only survive the desert—you'll thrive, making unforgettable memories along the way.

And keep in mind it's not all picture-perfect models at the Burn like you see on social media or Pinterest. They are there but are the minority- not everything needs to be done for "the gram" or Tiktok- this includes your outfits.

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