If there's any sign that festival fashion trends are going mass-market, it's that Burning Man, the ultimate outlier festival, has now provided inspiration for this summer's TopShop makeup line. Burning Man is merely the next event in a series of festivals to undergo large-store treatment — think of LF stores' guide to Coachella, or endless fashion blog posts about “that perfect festival dress from Urban Outfitters.”
But unlike most summer festivals, Burning Man is less about watching beautiful people and more about turning yourself into one by means of “radical self-expression,” one of the ten official principles of the festival. That translates to kitting yourself out — the crazier, the better. An additional challenge is dressing to survive the desert conditions of Black Rock, Nevada, in which 100+ degree weather, sandstorms, winds, rain and even ice are all fair game.
In that case, what do you wear? LA Weekly spoke to longtime Burner and self-styled playa expert Dusty Bacon (his Burning Man pseudonym), who runs Dustycouture.com, a blog dedicated to fashion at Burning Man.
Fashion in the desert has come a long way since the festival's inception in 1986. On one level, it's a microcosmic evolution that has seen all the cultural trends of the past three decades pass through it.
Bacon explains, “To start with, it was a free-for-all. The people that founded Burning Man were part of San Francisco's The Cacophony Society [an anarchic, free-thinking cultural collective]. What they brought was this sense of using fashion and costumes to provoke radical thoughts or reactions.” Burning Man has meant everything from coming in rugged, homemade digs to donning Western gothic costumes or reviving a Mad Max-inspired aesthetic.
Above all, fashion out on the playa is supposed to be about fantasies and creating new identities, says Bacon. But, funnily enough, many of those identities seem to come ready-made in recognizable trends and themes. Here's our guide to 2011's trending playa styles:
6. Spirit animal
Alright, fur at Burning Man has become a cliché. But that doesn't mean you'll see fewer people doing it. After all, faux fur does fulfill a real need. “One of the reasons people have chosen to wear the faux fur is because it keeps you warm and snuggly at night without having to wear a lot of fabric,” says Bacon. Spirit ravers, take note: you can also glow while furry, thanks to lighted hoods and more wacky paraphernalia.
What would life in the desert be without some nineties throwback day-glo? Incomplete, obviously. Bacon explains that raver fashion has historically been part of the Burning Man scene. “With the large sound systems that came in, you got an infusion of raver fashion, eventually neon wires and colors,” he explains. But forget about glowsticks if you want to impress anyone, and go for a giant light-up daisy chain headband instead.
4. Circus and burlesque
In recent years, there's been an influx of circus performers who've brought their own style to the playa. It's not uncommon to see people in marching band outfits, or wearing corsets and the ubiquitous fishnets. Body glitter is most welcome, too.
Burning Man is where steampunk style comes out to play. It's a little darker and wilder here — more post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-inspired, and dystopian. Burners modify the traditional steampunk fashion palette in more utilitarian and surprising ways, too, by adding dust-proof goggles or a utility belt.
Look out for this up-and-coming trend. Thinking of yourself as a superhero isn't just a kid's fantasy anymore; it's also an easy way to empower yourself through dress, Burning Man style. It can go many different ways, Bacon says. “For a lot of people, it amounts to being very silly, and creating an outfit that makes people laugh. For other people, they really want to look like something out of a comic book — a spandex suit is more their style. Other people want to look like something from a past that's never existed.” Note: apparently, spandex in the desert is not as deadly as one might think. Bacon's worn it himself, and he claims “it's breathable.”
1. Neo-tribal couture
Recently, neo-tribal style has swept over Burning Man and supplanted Steampunk as the most fashion-forward way to brave the desert. There's even been an emergence of desert couture houses such as Ayya, Infiniti Now, and designers who make custom clothing specifically for the festival, such as Miranda Caroligne. Think leather, durable cloth, feather headdresses and more — a smorgasbord of 'tribal' looks.
However, Bacon has a word of warning for the mere fashion followers. “We're currently in a neo-tribal period, but throughout all of that, those trends, though interesting, aren't really what the Burning Man style is based on. It's based on people experimenting. I love seeing something that's silly and fun, and which is obviously what a person adores wearing,” he adds. So don't expect to go to Burning Man and dress to fit in — the whole idea of fashion there is to stand out as much as possible, and if it means ruthlessly one-upping everyone by going all-out, so much the better.
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