Today I'll focus on the fashion of Burning Man, which is really just another discussion of the culture from a slightly different angle. Because in the end Burning Man is all about culture and community, and fashion is merely one aspect of how that community interacts and how its members express themselves. The weather and the dusty environment also play a large part in the discussion of Burning Man fashion, which you might have already guessed by looking at the photos above. And no, I did not wash those socks before I wore them again. There would have been no point.
In many ways, the fashion of Burning Man is deeply practical at its core. Want your friends to be able to find you easily in a place where cell phones don't work? Wear something outrageous and eye-catching. Want to stay cool under the scorching desert sun? Wear something scanty or simply go nude. Want to keep your feet from drying and cracking in the alkaline playa dust? Wear chunky, insulating boots. Want to avoid getting run down by a bike or a mutant vehicle in the pitch-black desert night? Wear plenty of things that glow. Want to stay warm at night and still look stylish? Try wearing something furry.
Tutus and Utilikilts; two Burning Man fashion staples.
But obviously in a place where there are no rules about how to dress, or even if you have to dress at all, there's a whole lot of leeway for personal expression. For many people, Burning Man is a place to push their own boundaries and even create a whole new persona that they've always wanted to explore. Many people find that going nude or partially so really isn't as scary as they imagined it would be, and in this they can find a new acceptance of their own bodies and a way to conquer fears. At Burning Man nudity is just a normal part of life, and whether you're old or young, skinny or ample, no one is really going to look twice if you're naked or topless or a "shirt cocker" (although the latter is really quite an unfortunate look, to be honest -- so much so that some camps have set up 'pants cannons' to fire at pantsless passersby). Many people shower right out in the open because setting up an enclosed shower structure can be such a pain, and when the water truck goes by to spray the roads (it keeps the dust down), people will just whip off their clothes and run behind it to cool off.
A couple of my daytime looks. Note the cup attached to my belt in the first photo; most places that serve drinks ask you to bring your own cup, so it's important to have one on hand at all times. This is one of the things that makes harnesses and belts such handy accessories; they give you a place to attach all your stuff.
There are a few common themes that emerge in the clothing of Burning Man; you'll see the "playa bunnies" done up with lots of fluffy fake fur, the rugged, Mad Max-meets Marilyn Manson looks, the ravers with their glow sticks and colorful wigs, and dashes of goth, steampunk, bondage-inspired, and plenty of hippie tie dye. You'll also see a lot of costumes and costume accessories -- bunny ears, weird contact lenses, masks, crazy wigs, and lots and lots of fishnet, in the form of stockings, gloves, shirts, you name it. Sadly, come Thursday night you'll also see a lot of the douchebag frat boy bro types rolling in, wearing their backwards baseball caps and shitty flip flops, with their sole purpose in life being to swill brewskies and listen to awful aggro metal music. This is my least favorite element of Burning Man, and frankly I wish the entrance gates would close on Wednesday so that people can't just come to 'party' for the weekend. Thankfully, the douchey bros and and vapid club girls make up a fairly small minority of the overall population.
A couple of interesting looks seen at Center Camp, the best spot for people watching on the whole playa.
Of course the weather has an influence on the fashion, being generally hot during the day and sometimes bitterly cold at night, but more importantly there's also the omnipresent dust. If you're worried about being dirty at Burning Man, you're going to be spending a lot of your time worrying. OK, all of your time. Because there's really no getting clean at Burning Man, there's only the temporary illusion of clean that you get when you rinse off your hands or wipe your face with a wet washcloth (which will inevitably be inpregnated with dust anyway). If you really want to enjoy yourself fully, you just have to embrace the dust, because by the end of the week everyone and everything is pretty much covered with it.
By the end of the week my "playa hair" had gone full-on spiky mop, and our boots were all playa-colored. I also discovered why dreadlocks are such a practical hair style out there.
As I mentioned on Monday, the only time I've really felt out of place at Burning Man was when I showed up in my boring, unimaginative street clothes (literally jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers, that I wore because they were comfortable to travel in). In a place where anything goes, it's not about fitting in so much as it's about putting yourself out there and contributing something to the community. And whether you go in drag or dress up as a one-eyed purple kangaroo or just go naked, you're revealing something about yourself, something that can be shared. And with an outfit that you clearly put zero effort or thought into, there's nothing there to be shared, nothing to contribute to the experience of Burning Man. Because in the end, the Burning Man experience is comprised solely of what the attendees collectively put into it.
Dressing up at Burning Man is fun, but for me it isn't really the focus, because I already feel very confident in expressing myself through style even when I'm back home. But for many people it's the fashion element that is so transformative; they cast off their inhibitions and experiment with style in ways they never thought they could. And I think this leads a lot of people to wonder what they're so scared of in regular life, and how they might bring a little of that freedom back home with them. Like I said before, Burning Man can be a life-changing experience, and this is just one of the many aspects of your life it can change.