At the beginning of May in Cape Town, my friends and I put on some weird outfits, packed up our African safari jeeps, and set off for the Tankwa Karoo desert. Destination: the adult playground that was AfrikaBurn. One of the many regional versions of the official Burning Man event, AfrikaBurn did not live up to expectations… because I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself in for in the first place.
What is Burning Man?
Burning Man is an annual event (it’s not a festival, OK?) described by many as a ‘social experiment’ because of the unconventional way it’s organised. Each year, a temporary city called ‘Black Rock City’ is built in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Likewise – smaller, regional Burning Man events are also held annually all over the world, including South Africa, where I attended AfrikaBurn.
Why is Burning Man NOT a festival?
What makes Burning Man so unique is that there is no official line-up or entertainment agenda – the experience is completely built by its attendees who create or join camps (with the most weird and wonderful themes), build artwork or stages, or volunteer their skills. There’s absolutely no money exchanged at the Burn – you need to be completely prepared with everything required to survive (and have a good time). I know, right – nowhere that you can buy a disgusting hotdog and a cider?!
A fundamental value of Burning Man is ‘leaving no trace’ – all of the art, sculptures and camps are burnt down and completely packed away at the end with no remnants left behind.
Every Burning Man experience is different because everyone takes their own journey each day and night. There’s no phone signal or accessible electricity, and attendees are encouraged to be ‘present in the moment’, which means you rarely look at your phone, or even know what time of day it is. Lack of any agenda means you have no commitments, and never know what’s coming next. It’s the most unusual but freeing experience.
I’m at risk of sounding like a complete wanker now, so if you want to try to understand a bit more – take a look at the Burning Man first-timer guide. If you think you might not be up to it – you could be right. In order to enjoy it, you really just need to immerse yourself and accept it’s going to be a bizarre experience. It’s not for everyone, but I urge anyone who is curious to try it, to do so. And those who are curious – read on for outfit inspiration, what to bring, and other tips!
Burning Man outfits on a budget
Being a usually very practical dresser and the absolute WORST at shopping, I really surprised myself at how much I enjoyed the Burning Man outfit prep. Here are some tips that will hopefully help make the frustrating Burning Man outfit search a bit easier.
- Set daily themes – no matter what they are, it’ll really help you pull your outfits together. Plus, it’s more fun when you coordinate with your friends. The themes we ended up going for were space cowboy, S&M and animal (just the normal ones, ya know?).
- Get a staple pair of boots – if you have a sturdy pair, they can easily do you well for the entire festival. The ground can be rocky so it’s best to get something comfortable that will protect your feet.
- Plan exactly what you’re going to be wearing beforehand. Don’t just rock up with loads of accessories and items and wing it when you’re there. Trust me, you’ll not want to have to faff around looking for stuff when you’re camping in the desert. I actually put all of my different outfits and matching accessories into separate bags which worked a treat having everything together when I was too drunk to function.
- The more layers and accessories the better. I thought some of my outfits were going to be too random, but in hindsight I actually wish I had added more weird stuff. People wear some crazy outfits, and it just works – so have fun with it. Some ideas: fishnets, harnesses, goggles, belts, tassels, bralets, bandanas, scarves, paper fans and umbrellas, hats, face jewels, head pieces. If you bring glitter, make sure it’s biodegradable.
- Bring a fur coat, scarves and goggles. At Afrikaburn especially it got pretty cold at night and VERY windy on some days. You need decent goggles to protect your eyes from sand, a scarf to protect your face and keep warm, and a coat (fur looks cool) so you don’t freeze to death. If you don’t actually need the goggles, they still look cool on top of your head as an extra accessory. I hear Black Rock City is a lot warmer but the temperature can really vary in the desert and you need to be prepared.
- Get creative. Think about how you can create things to save money and make your outfits unique – I bought myself a shiny cowboy hat for $5 and then stuck loads of jewels and sequins on it with superglue. That’s $200 saved on an embellished festival hat!
- Add lights. I brought fairy lights this year to wrap round myself at night, but next year I’ll take it one step further and weave them through my outfits and coat.
My Burning Man outfits
Here’s a breakdown of my Burning Man outfits for AfrikaBurn 2019.
Fur coat: SHEIN – $30
Bodysuit: Missguided from yonks ago
Boots: Pretty Little Thing – $50 (but I got them with 30% off)
PU ribbon: Amazon – $3
Chain harness: Etsy – search for ‘Laceshine’ – $15
All face jewels: Pretty Little Thing – $12
Skirt and top: Esty – search for ‘Laceshine’ – $20 each
Bumbag: Pretty Little Thing – $20
Silver hotpants: eBay – $6
Cowboy hat: Party shop – $5 – I blinged it up by glueing on my own jewels
All bangles and arm cuffs in every photo: Amazon – $5-10 each
Face jewels: Pretty Little Thing
Silver top: Topshop – $35
Skirt: eBay – $15 – search for ‘chiffon slit beach maxi skirt’ for loads of options
Feather bralet: eBay – $15. Search ‘feather bra / feather harness’ and loads of cool things will come up
Leopard bodysuit: Pretty Little Thing – $35
Gold tassel belt: Etsy – search for ‘Laceshine’ – $20
Steam punk black goggles: eBay – $4
Must-brings for Burning Man
It’s really important to get Burning Man prep right and be prepared for any scenario. Once you’re there, money is useless, and you’re miles from civilisation. You can’t just head to a shop or pop home to pick something up. It’s all about self-dependence. Here’s a list of must-brings to help you nail your prep:
- A decent 4 wheel drive car – you need this for driving on dirt tracks. So many cars had broken down or had flat tyres on the way to Karoo desert due to the bumpy roads. We got 4x4s with tents that sat on the roofs which worked perfectly. Downsides were the tents were small and it was quite noisy in the wind.
- SPF – it can get really hot and ain’t nothing worse than sun stroke on the sesh!
- Plenty of water (5L per person per day)
- Water bottle
- Backpack (preferably a hydration pack so you can easily drink water as you go – recommended for Black Rock City because it’s so much bigger and harder to get back to camp once you head out).
- Enough alcohol to last you for your time there!
- If possible, try to join a camp before you go to Burning Man (you can find camps through Facebook groups or word of mouth) – you will then probably get access to showers and a good spot to set up too.
- Bring baby wipes if you don’t have access to a shower – you’re gonna need them.
- Tinned or easily-prepared food (and gas / gas rings to cook it with if you do want to cook).
- Sleeping mask and ear plugs (music basically plays all night)
- Somewhere that gives shelter from wind – whether it’s a stretch tent, or a camper van.
- Scarf and goggles for the wind and sand storms.
- Plenty of lights – headlamps, fairy lights. It’s so dark at night that it’s difficult to even be able to see who is walking next to you without them!
- Portable phone charger (if you’re an insta hoe and want to take pics, you won’t be finding any electricity very easily for a charging plug).
- Change of clothing so you have more comfortable / warm items in the evening. Some of my outfits were quite difficult to move in, so an extra change of clothing for dancing would have been perfect.
- Be prepared for your period (assuming you’re female). Even if you’re not expecting it – you don’t want to get caught out. I’d recommend bringing a menstrual cup to stick with the environmentally friendly vibe. Plus, because you have to clear up after yourself, you don’t particularly want to be carrying around used tampons every evening.
- Last but not least – something to gift! Try to make it personal – do you have a skill or something interesting you can share with the community? If you’re like me and don’t have much to share apart from weird jokes and alcohol, then that’s fine too.
Get ready for Burning Man 2019
I hope my summary of AfrikaBurn and tips for the desert can help prepare some Burn Virgins for the big event in Black Rock City this year.
A lot of effort and preparation is required for an event like this but it’s so worth it for the unexplainable experience you’ll have! Make sure you’re as ready as possible for it and it’ll be unforgettable in the best of ways.
If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂 x