Help a funky girl look good and be comfortable at Burning Man
July 7, 2007 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Help a woman appropriately pack for Burning Man.

I am going to Burning Man for the first time. I need help packing/buying/choosing clothes. I am buying a bunch of colorful and unique stuff (tube top dresses, furry blue boots, sequin shirts, big red furry thick jacket for nighttime, fake eyelashes, cool hats) , but don't really get how people dress for the "basics." I want to be fun, unique, flashy, I don't have problems with less clothing rather than more, but I don't "get" how to do it. I have funky gold sneakers for day wear, but is it too hot for knee high or thigh high socks as well? Do you wear shorts under dresses to hold stuff in the pockets or leggings? When it's that hot-do you wear as little as possible or lightweight layers? Is it too hot for tights? Also, at night-I have a warm coat, but how cold are we talking, here? (I know it varies) Also, how many changes of clothing do you bring? Are you so filthy that you want to change a couple times a day if you get the chance?

Also, how do you carry stuff around with you? (Goggles, dust mask, water, a snack (I'm diabetic so I also have to have glucose tablets and a test kit.) I don't want to lug around a backpack-especially if I'm wearing wings. :) I will have a bike with storage but I don't think I'll have it with me all the time to store all that crap. Do you carry that all around with you all the time?

Yes, I know that there will be 30,000 people who are all dressed totally differently and to each his own, but I am just trying to gauge how people do it. Look funky and unique but are able to function and wear clothes that work in that environment. First hand info is great. Thanks!
posted by aacheson to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You should lug around a backpack.
posted by aubilenon at 7:39 PM on July 7, 2007

I don't want to lug around a backpack-especially if I'm wearing wings

Put the wings on the backpack.

Everywhere you go, every time of day, you will be bringing water with you. So will everyone else. Lots of folks carry camelbacks and such, which gives them plenty of easy to get water, and a little room for other things. Integrate something like that into your costume(s), and your problem is solved.

But yeah, most people either have storage on their nearby bike, or are carrying some sort of bag, pretty much whenever they leave their camp. You should probably be equipped and prepared to do the same.
posted by toxic at 7:47 PM on July 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

i've never been, but i imagine you can wear anything you damn well please!

for me, i'd wear a single light layer, about an inch or two of sunscreen, and carry a light-colored mini-umbrella around as a parasol (in fact, that's what i'm planning to do in 100+ degree spain in a few weeks). not sure what the temp is out there, but above 80, and i think tights will be miserable. i would do sandals, personally. you could always decorate your legs with magic marker.

if a backpack interferes with your wings--and i hate it when that happens--maybe you can find a decent fanny pack? they're so stupid in most contexts, but i imagine at burning man you can get away with one. eagle creek makes pretty roomy ones, some with water-bottle holders (a good idea!). if you can find a large, groovy scarf or bandanna, you can tie it over the pack to cover it up.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:50 PM on July 7, 2007

It's hot at Burning Man. Too hot for tube socks or tights for daywear. If you are going for the less is more approach, I recommend bringing an umbrella so you can shade yourself while you walk during the day. You'll definitely need a backpack to carry your water and diabetic supplies. Burning Man is not the time to have a low blood sugar incident. It's fantastic but also disorienting - and people may not recognize a low blood sugar incidence, they may presume that you're enjoying other substances.

At the Burning Man website, you'll see that they suggest 2 tents, one for storage and one for sleeping. This definitely made life a lot easier for us.

Finally, I'd suggest bringing a funnel, it makes using the latrines a lot easier.

Good luck and have fun. It's a really fantastic experience.
posted by TorontoSandy at 7:57 PM on July 7, 2007

For comfort, you'll mostly sleep during the day. Bring warm clothes and stay through the chilly nights, when there's adventure to be had and the weather is bearable.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:38 PM on July 7, 2007

Get a Camelbak or similar hydration pack. This is your water supply, and also your purse. You can keep anything else you need in or attached to the pack. You can attach the pack to your bike if you don't want it on your back, and vice versa.

In the daytime, everything depends on your tolerance for heat and sun. Personally, I'm always trying to keep my eyes shaded and maximize airflow on skin. Tights or thigh-highs seem to me like they'd be unbearable, but you'll see plenty of people wearing them. If you don't know your tolerance, you just need to have a fallback plan if your outfit turn out to be too hot.

At night, the warmest coat in the world won't do you any good if the wind can slice right through it. One layer as a windbreak and another as insulation is ideal.

In general, the weather is impossible to predict year to year (or day to day, or hour to hour...) so you just have to be ready for anything: rain, wind, sun, dust, heat, cold, and anything in between. I've been in temperatures above 100 and below 40 out there.

Wear shoes that you are sure won't give you blisters. Sandals are not as great an idea as they might seem. Don't worry about staying clean, because every time you clean up, you'll be dirty again within 30 minutes. The dust is ubiquitous and inescapable, so just accept it. Nobody will look down on you because your outfit is dusty -- theirs is too.
posted by jjg at 8:45 PM on July 7, 2007

For comfort, you'll mostly sleep during the day.

Unless you don't. Day and night on the playa are different, and have different things to recommend them. If you don't go out to experience the city by day, you're missing half the experience.
posted by jjg at 8:53 PM on July 7, 2007

I know that there will be 30,000 people who are all dressed totally differently and to each his own

And yet everyone ends up pretty much looking the same...

Bring lots of ziplock bags - huge ones for your fresh clothes, smaller ones for single items. Keep anything you want to be able to encounter fresh and playa-free in there. Once opened, they have a non-playa existence measured in minutes.

Sequins have a habit of shedding all over the place, which makes "leave no trace" a little challenging from a practical point of view.
posted by meehawl at 9:43 PM on July 7, 2007

Ask Heloise
posted by hortense at 10:29 PM on July 7, 2007

Yeah I'd definitely skip anything with sequins or feathers. Use your Camelback as a purse and learn to carry not much stuff. You'll need water, extra sunscreen, an ashtray if you smoke, a powerbar, toilet paper or kleenex, sunglasses, a bandanna (dust storms!) and maybe a few bucks if you go to Center Camp, also maybe a map.

It's cold at night. I took a ratty old fur coat with me and was actually pretty pleased with it for nighttime wear. Think light sweaters and pants, more if it's wet at night. Keep in mind that any shoes you bring are going to get completely and totally caked with mud if there's any rain which is not unusual. Have a set of camp shoes that are just for walking around camp, not for getting around the playa. Vinegar wipes for feet help keep you from getting playa foot. You can make these with a ziplock, some heavy paper towels and some white vinegar. So excellent!

The main things to remember that you might not are

- reapply sunscreen all the time
- drink even when you're not thirsty
- keep your salts up as well as your water intake, so have miso soup or saltines as part of your carry-around pack

My email is in my profile if you want more tips, I haven't been in a while, but I doubt the desert has changed much.
posted by jessamyn at 10:33 PM on July 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Things I wish I'd taken to BM and didn't:

earplugs, sleeping aids, a sleep mask (I'm a light sleeper who needs recovery sleep), a nighttime pissoir (the funnel, not so much. I'm not potty-particular and I can hover forever, but I do have a short fuse if you know what I mean), lightweight bedding, a very very warm coat, a sunhat (both for shade and to keep some of the playa out of my hair, though eventually it didn't bother me)

Agreed that feathers, sequins and anything else you want to "keep nice" will never be nice again. That playa dust is amazing. It killed every cd I had, for example.

The pleasant surprise I was given and might pack another time: a jelly flashing ring. The twinkly stuff really does start to be amazing under certain circumstances.

I would take some tote you can store on your bike. When I was there, parking your bike and coming back to it was A-OK, and riding it to whereever you might want to start a stroll seems the easiest method of total transport. Then you can carry the tote only when you're going far off from the bike.

Have a blast!!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:50 PM on July 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

You'll find a lot of great advice on the Burning Man site and on its forum but my favourite Burning Man lists, including advice for first timers and shopping lists that I've relied upon for years - is at The Civilized Explorer.

Personally, despite having experienced various weather conditions, I think a lot of Burners exaggerate what you need to take. For a Brit who is used to the multiple types of mud that one has to content with for Glastonbury, I have always felt that we end up taking way too much stuff to the playa and spending way too much cash in advance.

In terms of clothes I would say you need a range of clothes suitable for the hottest day you've ever experienced down to the coldest day you've ever experienced. That means layers - in my case long johns and tights to wear at nights under the costume, but in the day a sort of Lawrence of Arabia or Mad Max look for the desert heat. Your look doesn't have to be just a zany random collection of frou frou (though enough Burners stock up on Haight to do that look) - you can also go for formalised costumes, where you dress as fictional characters for example.

But there's some stuff I really would advise you to get.

1. A bike. Get this one sorted way upfront. And while a beater is fine, you don't want a bike that is so crap that if the playa surface gets rutted up your backside is constantly hurting.

2. (as a follow-up to the above point) A padded bicycle seat.

3. A bike lock.

4. A Camelbak. It took me three Burning Mans to figure out how great these are. Forget this nonsense about not wanting to take a backpack. You need the water with you and you don't want the annoyance of having a bottle drop or drip. It's a great way to carry a few choice belongings and your water.

5. Lights. If it's a dark playa (sometimes I've been when there's barely been a moon at all) you will want all manner of glow-sticks, blinkies and el-wire to light yourself and your bike up. Get one of those ultracheap headlamps for your own head.

6. Decorations for your bike. You need to be able to recognise it next to one hundred identical-looking bikes!

7. Gifts to give out. Something that represents YOU as a person. Some good advice is to go to Burning Man once and understand the gift culture before then choosing what gifts you'll bring next year. But as a Brit I always take something uniquely British - for example prostitutes' cards from phone boxes!

8. If you're the kind of person who chooses to take intoxicants, take all the precautions and be sensible. It is a dangerous environment in which to take substances. It is not advised to mix them with alcohol. Alcohol does seem to be in fairly plentiful, and free, supply on the playa, but don't let any youngsters drink it. There are lots and lots of police around, and they stop and search vehicles going to the site, as well as using night vision to check out Burners at night. That said I have never encountered a "drug dealer" on the Playa, so don't be expecting to find them.
posted by skylar at 1:05 AM on July 8, 2007

My .02:

It does get hot during the day, but luckily it's usually a dry heat, which doesn't exactly feel like 105 degrees like the thermometer may read. You can go as skimpy as you want, but I don't think wearing tights or tube socks will completely overheat you. Fishnet tights shouldn't really pose a problem at all and look awesome. =)

As for wardrobe, brainstorm every costume/outfit/look that has ever intrigued you, that you've ever wanted to try out - and wear it. Whether it's a furry panda costume, leather lingerie, geisha girl, 50s housewife, naughty nurse, dude, or just body paint - GO FOR IT. As a virgin burner, you are in the best position to go crazy and just have a blast - make 'no inhibitions' your mantra. =)

Me personally, i pretty much have one outfit for every day and one for every night...sometimes the night outfit is just the day outfit with additional layers, i.e. i would add furry leg warmers, a vest or jacket, and arm warmers to my bikini, skirt, and fishnets. I never really get cold because I dance a lot, but low temps last year were in the 50s. As for filth, I baby-wipe twice/day - in the morning before the day begins, and in the evening before I go out partying.

I also carry a backpack and stash it in my bike basket for when I don't need it, so I don't worry about having clothes with a lot of pockets/storage. I pretty much take my bike everywhere. There were many times last year when I didn't have my eye on my backpack, and no one ever tampered with it. YMMV.

Another tip for clothes is to pack them in plastic ziplock bags separated by outfit. That way they don't get dusty until after you've put them on for the first time. Also, save an outfit to change into once you've left the playa.

Final tip that I can think of at 4 in the morning - clothes that glow under blacklight look awesome. White and fluorescent colors glow the best. =)

Oh, oh, and if you're not on you might as well sign up. Plenty of BM related groups with lots of specific advice.

posted by infinityjinx at 1:17 AM on July 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nthing the camelback.

Otherwise, last year I wore knee-high toe socks almost every day. I wasn't overheated in the least.

You might also consider if there's a way to let medics know that you're diabetic should something bad happen. I'm not sure what the best plan is, but I do know that someone from a camp nearby last year had a diabetic incident, and it took some time for him to get help since no one knew he was diabetic.

Oh, and, uh, enjoy!
posted by nat at 1:50 AM on July 8, 2007

Excellent advice from all - triple nthing the Camelback... just attach your wings to it or try to get wings that can have a backpack on top of them (some of them do). Nthing the idea that you will have to drink lots of water. Also maybe visit the medical tent at Center Camp and see what supplies they have just in case - I had a minor medical issue and was completely blown away by how efficient and prepared they were. Might be reassuring to know that they can set you up with a glucose drip etc.

Also yes, the 'camelback as purse' idea is the truth - for a week you'll only need the essentials of survival, so enjoy not having to carry crap around with you. There's piles of Virgin info out there, so be prepared, and and yes, enjoy! It's a fascinating trip, and well worth going.
posted by rmm at 7:58 AM on July 8, 2007

I know your question is more geared towards clothing, but this visual guide on 'what to bring' is helpful in packing for BM in general.
posted by nitsuj at 10:31 AM on July 8, 2007

Since you're asking for fashion advice, I'd definately recommend you read Gala's article on the subject.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:34 PM on July 8, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. Juliet, that website is PERFECT.

Thanks to everyone. Keep 'em coming!
posted by aacheson at 1:47 PM on July 8, 2007

It will be very hot, and very cold. It may be dry or muggy. There could be a dust storm every single afternoon for hours every day you're there, or not a breeze at all. Be prepared for anything. I personally wear as little as possible during the day, including going barefoot (unless on a bike), but I always wear a hat. It's one of the best ways to keep yourself shaded. I had a little bag with pockets for all the crap I lugged around- I picked it up at army surplus for six bucks. One thing you must never forget is lights on your bike at night, including a headlight (I had a friend who spent the night at the medic tent after riding her own bike into someone else's abandoned bike out on the desert). I always keep a stash of pristine clothes for the ride home. My favorite thing to wear during the day is a light sleeveless dress that I can wash and hang to dry overnight. But I'm not as big on dressing up during the day as at night- I'd rather be cool and comfortable. I keep my long hair tied up and covered as much as possible so that I don't have to wash it, and to protect it from the dry alkaline environment. A little spray bottle with some lavender hydrosol and a teaspoon of white vinegar mixed in is a great thing for skin and hair. Also nasal spray, eye drops, baby wipes, jojoba oil, lots of fresh, crunchy green things to eat.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:10 PM on July 8, 2007

BTW: If you want to look unique, avoid cowboy hats, tutus, and wings. Unless you've made them yourself. Looking unique at BM would probably involve wearing a crisp white linen suit with a knotted silk tie and t-strap pumps. No one wears that.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:17 PM on July 8, 2007

Just in case you don't wear one already, please, please seriously consider wearing a MedicAlert bracelet or necklace. It helps *you*, and it helps paramedics (fate forbid).
posted by tristeza at 5:28 PM on July 8, 2007

TW: If you want to look unique, avoid cowboy hats, tutus, and wings.

And fake fur and big chunky boots and camelbaks and headlamps ;)

I don't want to discourage you; I'm still somewhat fond of The Burning Man Look, versions 1-3. But it stopped being unique a long while ago, it's just another uniform now. I think you should plan your own clothes without much concern to what other burners do, it'll be much more interesting. Just try to keep the general practicality rules in mind (no MOOP, heat/cold/dust considerations) and run with your imagination.

I actually eventually got sick of carrying around a camelbak. Everyone always says you need one all the time, so it was my constant companion the first three years. But last year I realized it started to feel too much like a chore, and had a lot more fun with a nalgene in a neoprene sleeve that was intended to carry a bottle of wine. It was enough water to get me from place to place, and I could attach a few little things to it. There's nearly always somewhere to get a drink while you're out adventuring if you don't make it back to your own water in time...
posted by flaterik at 9:50 PM on July 8, 2007

A quick note on the diabetic issue:

My husband is diabetic (type 1) and we did a 5 day desert outing last year- not too much strenuous hiking, but much exploring in extremely hot, sunny conditions. He had two extreme sugar low events the likes of which I had not seen before and that hit without warning (to make it more difficult he insisted he was fine while he was being psychotic) - so just an fyi to test often....
posted by ohdeanna at 1:41 PM on July 18, 2007

« Older Where should I go on a three-day trip, leaving...   |   Spending Good time with orphaned kids Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.