We have four trunks filled mainly with clothes that we wear on the Playa, but we don’t actually need any of it. For my first couple of years at Burning Man I wore jeans and jeans shorts every day. I brought a variety of tee shirts, assorted underwear, and a couple of hats to protect me from the sun. I owned zero “costumes” until year three. Now we shop year-round at thrift stores and second-hand shops for Burning Man outfits, customizing them for Playa use with lights, colorful fur trim, beads and other paraphernalia.
I recall at my first Burn my amazement at seeing a woman who looked like the character Leelu from The Fifth Element. Because Lashes and I had always loved that movie, I was excited to tell her about the striking appearance of someone who looked exactly like the film character on a dusty road in Black Rock City. Leelu’s appearance during my first Burning Man inspired me creatively, but it lit a much bigger fire under Lashes, who started to learn more about the costumes typical of Burning Man. She eventually gained expertise in areas such as EL Wire for lighting up clothing, bikes, etc; she also began exploring different kinds of material that could be turned into costumes appropriate for the Playa.
She started shopping in second-hand stores for retro-style clothing and ostentatious hats, all of which she modified for Burning Man. At one of our early burns, she noticed the large number of colorful flags waving from tents, RVs, and art installations; so, she began designing and sewing flags based on each year’s theme (some of which were quite challenging, such as Rites of Passage, Cargo Cult, and Caravansary). We’d often brainstorm ideas for both flags and costumes together, agree on an idea, and then move forward. It was a year-round effort – especially on Lashes’ part.
But the reality is that you don’t really need costumes, flags, and other home-made paraphernalia to be prepared for the Playa. However, there are some necessities: first, you ’ll need clothing that is light enough to wear in the hot desert sun, as well as clothing that can keep you warm in the cool (and sometimes cold) desert nights. Lights to make yourself and your bike visible at night, and headlamps or other wearable flashlights that help you see your way around the variable surface of the Playa are also necessities. Without appropriate lighting, you stand a chance of being invisible to oncoming bikes, or of tripping over something laying on the Playa (such as a sleeping Burner).
You don’t need costumes for the Burn, although you may want some in order to have more fun and make a splash in BRC. You can always obtain a free outfit from one of the costume shops (such as Kostume Kult) after you’ve reached Burning Man. There are plentiful choices – especially if you shop early in the week. Also, you can shop at one of the Prepare for the Playa events held by regional Burner groups around the world. There you’ll find everything from playa wear to lighting to dust protection gear.
So, there’s no need to stress over shopping for Burning Man finery. Even if you “come as you are,” you’ll quickly find yourself outfitted for the Burn in the basic attire that everyone wears on a daily basis: a layer of dust.