Burners have a reputation for being environmentally conscious. It stems from the whole “Leave No Trace” ethos of this desert event, in which you obsessively avoid littering and pack out all your own trash. (Ok, setting aside the carbon footprint of the event. That’s another discussion.) For the most part, Burners are pretty good about waste reduction. Everyone carries a little bag for putting beer cans and other waste, and smokers even carry tins around with them for their butts.
A lot of Burner fashion is geared toward this low-waste ethos. Our hip packs jangle with reusable water bottles, reusable cups, and bags for any waste we do produce while away from our tents and RVs, like wet wipes and beer cans.
But there’s also the trace that’s left everywhere off the playa from our fashion, as Burners frantically shop for fantastic but affordable outfits made in exploitative and polluting conditions overseas. The dyes and toxins dumped into Asian rivers, the plastic packaging, the synthetic microfibers shed into our oceans — we should be thinking about how we affect not just the Playa, but the rest of the world, too.
Plus, we definitely overspend, and that money often goes to soulless corporate entities. That’s against the non-commercialisation ethos of Burning Man. We’re supposed to be experimenting with a better, more creative, decommodified world, and that should extend to how we pack for this week-long pretend world.
So, if this is your first Burn — or if it’s your fourth Burn and you’re bothered by all the wasteful fashion shopping and want to level up — this is your guide to what to pack, and how to do less harm, and even do good, with your BM fashion.
1. Swap before you shop.
Everyone who has been to Burning Man probably has at least one thing — if not 100 things — that they bought and used once, or never at all. A lot of Burners don’t go to the Burn every single year either, which means their fantastic fashion is lying around unused. And it’s hard to donate this stuff to Goodwill because… well, it’s often handmade and weird and only valuable to Burning Man attendees who get why one would want to wear a hand-bedazzled top hat.
All that unused and trashed fashion is a huge waste of resources, but also a huge opportunity for you to get free or cheap festival fashion and accessories. Here are some ideas as to exactly how:
- If you’re part of a Burning Man camp, make one of your pre-burn meet-ups a fashion swap. You only need five people to make it worthwhile, but the more the merrier!
- Or arrange a big fashion swap for all your Burner Friends, no matter their camp. Make sure to invite people who aren’t going this year.
- Reach out to any friends who aren’t going this year, and ask them if you can have, rent, or buy some of their stuff. It’s actually a super fun friend date to go over and help them clean out their closet or Burning Man bin, trying everything on as you go.
- Host an upcycling workshop, where everyone can bring old clothing for upcyling into Burn clothes. Invite a crafty friend or talented expert to help attendees sew and embellish and cut up clothing to turn it into custom pieces for themselves.
And if you’re in NYC, don’t miss the Big Imagination fashion swap on Thursday, July 25th at The Canvas in Williamsburg!
2. Rent your Burning Man fashion.
Does the idea of bringing more stuff into your home that you will never wear again annoy you? Then rent! Costume places are a good place to start. Onesies are something that people wear at night (it’s all about being warm, comfortable, and having fun) so rent a fluffy animal costume. This butterfly costume also looks so fun (just wear underwear under it so you can strip down if you’re out until the sun comes up and it starts getting warm). Rent a wig to wear over your hair so it doesn’t get wrecked. You can also deconstruct costumes for their helpful elements: fairy wings and a headpiece; a tutu for Tutu Tuesday; pair a jacket and boots with your bikini; a white tunic, pants, and robe; or a cape and hip pack.
The talented 3D headpiece designer Kova by Sascha also rents her luxury headpieces for only $100 a month. I wish more upscale festival designers did this!
I mentioned this in the first point, but also ask your friends who aren’t going if you can borrow or rent their fashion. I’ve let my friends borrow stuff from me before, and I rented my most expensive headpiece to a woman a couple of years ago, and the stories she brought back with her when she returned it to me made me so joyful to have shared my fashion with her.
3. Shop secondhand and vintage.
Finally, a reason to buy all that wacky vintage stuff at your local thrift shop. Grab a real, full-length and super warm fur coat for a song. Pick up a cool embroidered vest or marching band jacket. The sky is the limit — have fun with it!
This year, there’s a new online resale shop called LITTLE GEM that is dedicated to festival fashion. Check there first!
There’s also a lot of amazing stuff on eBay if you search for “burning man,” and tick the “clothing, shoes, and accessories” and “pre-owned” boxes: embellished captains hats, sparkly jumpsuits, Moroccan belts…Once you get inspired, you can search for similar items outside of what’s just labeled for Burning Man and come up with some more cool items. Same with Etsy, where you can find some pretty weird vintage stuff, like vintage steampunk goggles. Just search for an item and click the “vintage” option on the left.
You can also find some basics on normal resale websites like ThredUp. Look for boots, scarves, bandannas, harnesses, an oversized furry coat, fingerless gloves (or gloves where you can cut the fingers off), backpacks, fanny packs, sunglasses, and leggings secondhand.
4. Bring a capsule Burning Man wardrobe.
You’re going to be tempted to buy a lot of crazy stuff, especially if you look up #burningmanstyle on Instagram or Pinterest. I’m here to tell you that 1. You’re seeing professional influencers and supermodels, since that is what the algorithm floats to the top. And 2. Their looks take work, time, and money, all things that could be better spent on the Playa meeting people, gifting generously, and discovering art. And 3. You’ll discover that when you get there, 99% of the people you see are dressed in whatever they could throw on quickly. The supermodels are pretty rare.
Sure, bring a few stand-out outfits for Friday and Saturday night. But don’t worry about the rest of the week. You could legally go naked if you wanted to, but that makes riding a bike a little uncomfortable.
Plus, the playa dust is so alkaline, it’s as if you’re coated in baking soda all week. I’ve never smelled any B.O. on anyone at Burning Man, and that is saying something, given the scarcity of functioning showers. So you can re-wear some fashion again and again during the week.
Here is what to put in your Burning Man capsule wardrobe:
- Underwear, a bathing suit, a bodysuit, and/or nipple pasties. I recommend nude nipple pasties if you’re going to wear a stiff top with no bra — both I and a friend have had our nipples rubbed raw this way, or you might get sunburned. Do get reusable nipple pasties instead of the throwaway sticker ones! (If they’re too burlesque for you, cut the tassels off and use them elsewhere.)
- Boots or high-top sneakers. Go for flats, or flat platforms if you must. You’ll be out and about for hours and hours, and won’t want to split up from your friends just to change out of heels. You’ll never find them again.
- Merino wool socks. They’re good for keeping your feet healthy and temperature regulated when it’s cold and when it’s hot.
- A hands-free bag, such as a hip pack, holster, or backpack.
From left: Hellbent bags and accessories are made to order in New Orleans of genuine leather; Ritual Fashion is ethically made by artisans in Bali; Nicholas K only uses natural materials, non-toxic dyes, and ethical production; Ornate Reverie is designed by a Balinese woman in the U.S. and crafted in Bali by fairly paid Balinese women;
- A water container, such as a large insulated water bottle with a sling, or Camelbak. I have a friend who took the Camelbak bladder out of the hiking backpack and put it in her regular backpack and it worked really well for her. My husband and I got our crochet water bottle slings off of Etsy, and we love them. People also make nice leather water bottle slings too, if that’s your style.
- A mouth covering for dust storms, such as a bandana, scarf, or face mask.
- Eye protection for dust storms, such as goggles or large sunglasses.
- A warm coat. Oversized and long does the trick.
- Warm pants for the night. Avoid full bodysuits, because it makes peeing in a port-a-potty at night when it’s cold a trial. Unless it has a crotch hole in it.
- EL wire or copper fairy lights to wear at night
- A tutu for Tutu Tuesday
- An animal onesie – We love these for a long, fun night out.
And that is it! You can layer on accessories and other things, but you don’t need anything more — at least when it comes to fashion.
5. Use what you already have.
Especially if it’s your first year, try not going crazy shopping for stuff when you’re not even fully sure of what you’ll need or like. Here are things that you probably already own:
- Fun underwear and bras
- Sports bra or yoga tops
- Bathing suits and bikinis
- Flat boots or high-top sneakers
- Merino wool socks
- Small backpack
- Fanny pack
- Large water bottle
- Scarves or bandanas
- Ski goggles
- Yoga and athletic leggings and/or hot pants
If that all feels sad to you, definitely get crafty and paint, cut-up, and decorate your stuff. That is the most radical form of self-expression, to actually use your creativity to make things your own!
6. Support sustainable and ethical makers.
If you’re going to buy new, try to direct your money towards an ethical and small maker who will really benefit. This is the priciest step, but if you followed all my other tips and you’re looking for one or two showpieces and accessories you will treasure, then here you are.
Look for things that are:
- Made by fairly paid artisans or makers in good working conditions. Do not buy something that looks “ethnic” or artisan-made but is actually a fast-fashion rip-off, such as a Native American war bonnet (I WILL come tell you to take it off if I see you) or faux Mexican embroidered accessories. It’s incredibly disrespectful. Go for the real thing or don’t do it at all.
- Well made to last. You want to be able to wear it year after year or pass it along to someone else when you’re done.
- Made of natural, organic, and non-toxic materials.
- Made of recycled or upcycled materials.
Here’s the fun part you’ve been waiting for! These are my favorite artists, makers and brands creating Burning Man accessories and fashion:
From left: RasaVil headpieces and accessories are handmade in Lithuania; Object & Dawn is ethically handcrafted by Indian artisans; Kova by Sascha headpieces are 3D printed in the U.S. (and rentable!).
All three of these brands are non-gender-normative in their designs, using natural materials and artisan craft to bring their visions to life. From left: Nia Thomas handmakes her items out of deadstock, natural, or organic materials, Nia Thomas is handmade in India and Bali of natural and organic materials; and Marvaan is fairly made by artisans in Nepal.
From left; Alama accessories and jewelry is made by Masai artisans; Teeki prints its yoga clothes in LA on fabric made from recycled water bottles, Lacher Prise sustainable fashion that can go from the desert to real life.
7. Avoid MOOP-y stuff!
MOOP is an acronym for Matter Out of Place (a.k.a. anything that was not in the desert). That includes everything from beer cans and cigarette butts to grey water, and even biological material like feathers or food. In short, if it’s not playa dust, it is MOOP. And a lot of cheap festival fashion is super MOOP-y! Avoid these things:
- Fake eyelashes
- Face jewels
- Cheap belly dancer chains
- Fake nails
- Super cheap fake fur accessories that shed fibers
- Anything super cheap with itty-bitty parts that could break off
So that’s it! I hope this was helpful, and if you have other sustainable and ethical tips or creators you think I should know about, please share in the comments below. Let’s share the love!