Burning Man costumes are notorious for being indulgent, elaborate, slightly excessive, occasionally gaudy, and ALWAYS expensive…. that is, except for mine (although they were still all of those other words, and more).
Although constantly tempted by the gorgeous $700 light-up fur jackets, $100 mesh and sequin bodysuits, $200 buckle platform boots, and all other generally awesome Burning Man-esque items I see being sold at festivals everywhere, I had to (pretty much physically) restrain myself from spending thousands on costumes for Burning Man.
And let me tell you, it’s a lot harder than it seems. The fact that most things you could ever want are available at your fingertips via online shopping, combined with WAY too many awesome and silly outfit ideas, comes a perfect concoction for accidentally dropping a couple grand to look awesome out on the playa. But, it does not have to be that way!
I was on a bit of a budget, so I was determined to thrift my heart away and repurpose old things to make epic Burning Man costumes for my first Burn this year. To be totally exact and put all cards on the table, all my Burning Man costumes were things I have accumulated from garage sales over the years, old costumes/rags/random stuff in my house I repurposed or retrieved from the ends of drawers, or items from Amazon I used to make up my final necessities (all linked below – I am guilty of online shoppping too!).
My Garage Sale Addiction – Turned – Burning Man Fever
Let me start from the beginning. My mum and I are die-hard garage salers, getting up early each weekend to peruse the unwanted leftovers of many residents in our area of South Orange County to find our own treasure. And let me tell you – we do. I’ll give most of the credit to my mom on this one, but you best believe that she/we are frequenting the ‘fill a bag for $5’ sales, lapping up the last deals of interesting estate sales, and perusing through piles and piles of clothes strewn across driveway after driveway on brisk Saturday mornings.
I have known that I wanted to go to Burning Man, well, basically forever. And by forever, I mean at least 5-6 years, if not more, and was more serious about it in the last 4. Because of overseas work I had for the past 4 summers, I was unable to get back to the states in time for Burning Man. But this doesn’t mean that I wasn’t undoubtedly sure that I would end up there soon, and began more closely analyzing typical Burning Man fashion, keeping my eyes out in shops, and garage saling like a maniac whenever I was home in California.
I am already a very avid festival-goer, so while accumulating festival outfits during these years, I slowly began accumulating things I deemed more ‘burner-y.’ I feel like I had been shopping for Burning Man for three damn years by the time the even actually came… but, you best believe I was ready!
I finally planned my life around being home for Burning Man this year, and found a ticket. This was basically the moment my years of garage sales had culminated to! During the week before the Burn, I went wild with scissors, sewing kits, and hot glue guns, and let my creativity flow like it never had before.
But before I show you the results, I’ll break down a female burning man costume into the parts that I have found it to generally consist of. Now remember that you can wear absolutely anything at Burning Man, but this is what I find the general trend of BM fashion to be, the way it has come to exist today.
Components of Female Burning Man Costumes, According to Me:
Head: Goggles, extremely large or elaborate headpiece of any kind, bedazzled or decorated pilot hat or top hat, colorful wig, etc.
Hair: Braids. 2+ french braids, often with colorful fabric, yarn, or hair braided into it. Alternatively many girls get their entire head done with small colorful braids (it is hard/impossible to wash hair, and playa dust gives you dreads).
Face: sunglasses, tribal paint, well-stuck gems or glitter, flash tattoos
Neck: Goggles (on neck or head) bandana/breathing mask for storms, extremely chunky jewelry
Body: Basically as little as possible ???? High waisted swim bottoms/underwear/lingerie, one-piece swimsuits/bodysuits, pasties, glorified bra or bralette-type items, especially if they’re made of chains, beads, gems, or sequins
Around Body: Anything and everything flowy, wavy, and shiny. Parasols, fans, etc as well.
Arms: Long gloves (mesh/shiny/leather), flash tattoos or body paint
Waist/back: Utility belt, fanny pack, backpack for storage
Legs: tights (patterned, fishnet, etc), long socks, long mesh stockings
Feet: The chunkiest boots/platforms possible, combat boots, lace-up boots, anything excessive
Basically, I have concluded that, at Burning Man, you wear as much as possible on your extremities (crazy headdress, massive goggles, huge boots, gloves) and as little as possible on the inside (bikini and pasties). It’s pretty hilarious, really, but it is what it is. At least the chunky boots and gloves help against the dust, and the bikini is great in the heat (See, they do serve some kind of purpose)!
My Burning Man Costumes
I didn’t come across any super fancy boots or particularly sexy lingerie like a lot of those Burner babes out there, but I did what I could. Here is how I looked each day with a total breakdown of each piece of my outfit, suited for burners on a budget, crafty thrifters, and creative minds, and even some of you Amazon-Prime-a-holics out there!
Burning Man Costume 1: Chanelling my inner Egyptian Princess… or something like that
So I hardly took any photos on this day unfortunely… probably because it wasn’t my BEST costume, but it was fun nonetheless (and I look silly but what’s new). Let’s break it down:
Feather headdress: I made this one from my winter formal queen tiara from high school (found at the back of my closet), and feathers from a super-extra showgirl hat that I found at the estate sale of a theater performer. The long feathers were stuck in a sutan-type hat, but I plucked them out, made sure they were sturdy (not moop-y!), and hot glued them to a piece of card that I glued to the tiara. Viola!
Cleopatra Necklace: Garage Sale
Tie-Dye Goggles: Amazon! They also apparently glow in the dark. Find them here
Gold Velvet Leotard: Zaful – ordered off this cheap fashion website for another festival and found it better used here! See it here
Leather Utility Waist Pack: Amazon – my favorite purchase. Similar to this one here.
Fishnet Fingerless Gloves: Amazon – I got a pack of 6 colors. Get them here.
Gold Waist Chain: this one was from a random mall stand 4-5 years ago. Still kickin’!
Lace-up Boots – Found at a garage sale for $15, and they’re Steve Madden. Yes, please!
Thigh-high white stockings: Amazon – $6. See them here.
Burning Man Costume 2: Steampunk Ring Leader-esque type situation
Top hat: From my costume trunk; probably part of a costume when I was in middle school ????
Goggles: Again, Amazon! Find them here
Sunglasses: I honestly don’t remember, but they’re kinda like these on Amazon
Bandana: Somewhere in my closet
Unicorn Necklace: a BM gift ????
Black plain bathing suit top: Garage sale
Chain-link black belt/top/whatever you want it to be: Garage sale
Red Sequin Suspenders: From a childhood costume, somewhere in the costume trunk
Black fishnet fingerless glove: Same 6-pack of gloves from above! Get them here.
Black rhinestone fanny pack: Have had it for years and it has been with me through dozens of countries and festivals! I think I got it from a random store in New York, years ago. This one is fairly similar, though.
Red tutu: Garage sale!
Red fishnets: bottom of my costume drawer, probably from my high school days (sometimes, not getting rid of things can come in handy!)
Black fur snow boots: Garage sale, $10. Columbia brand ???? SUCH a steal – they feel like you’re walking on a tempur-pedic mattress, and the space-like design goes perfectly on the playa!
Burning Man Costume 3: Jungle Kween
Flower Headdress: I had this inredibly tangled fishing string of fake flowers sitting in my garage for years from a college sorority event. It was beyond hope of being untangled and therefore basically useless, but before Burning Man I saw it with totally new eyes! I used a piece of thick wire I got from Michael’s and wrapped the tangled flowers around it, gluing them in places so it would sit properly. I added in a battery-powered string of lights from Amazon, and viola!
Flash Tattoo – I found some flash tattoos at a garage sale in the week leading up to Burning Man, and bought a set on Amazon too. I gave them out as gifts – but I kept this badass eye for myself ????
Blue Braids – I got my hair braided at the “Bitchin Braid Camp” at the burn! Thanks to those lovely ladies for helping me tame my dreads! ????
Silky Zebra Bandana – garage sale, years ago, plucked from the closet
Chunky Necklace – bought by my grandmother in Thailand ????
Green Two-Piece suspender set – Bought on Zaful – check it out here
Leopard trailing pieces/cape thing (whatever you want to call it!) – I cut long strips out of a leopard scarf I bought in South Africa for Afrikaburn. I tied them in varying lengths to the suspender straps of my two-piece suit above, and it turned out looking like this! Everything is more fun with something flowy behind you, especially at the burn ????
Colorful tights – garage sale (everyone said it looked like I was bruised – but I was going more for the jungle look :P)
Lace-up Boots – again, garage sale steal.
Burning Man Costume #4: Burner Starship Commander Girl
Captain Hat: My dad’s old American Airlines pilot hat! He said he doesn’t mind if I bedazzle it, but I wanted to keep it OG for this burn ????
Furry blue goggles: Got them in Cape Town before Afrikaburn last year. They’re just like these.
Shiny face glitter: garage sale (the same sale I got the feathers in my first outfit and the headpiece in the next – it was a good one!)
Shoulder/Collar/Cape Piece: This one was a doozy… let me try and explain the randomness that went on to create this… I hope it makes some sort of sense!
So, I took some extra old shoulder pads I had laying around, and sewed/glued two and two together, layered a little bit so the lower one stuck out a bit more. I found an old silver belt from a garage sale and cut it up into strips of silver. I also found an old velvet collar in my costume trunk from a cat costume when I was probably about 8.
I sewed the silver belt to the shoulder pads on each side, and also to the cat collar so that I could fasten the collar around my neck and the silver belt would stretch out across my shoulder and reach the shoulder pads.
To keep the shoulder pads in place, we (my mum + I – she was the best to help me make outfits!) ended up cutting some strips out of old tights (to form like a tube), and sewing one along each bottom seam of the shoulder pads so that I could put my arms through them and keep the shoulder pads (er… suit of armor) upright.
Next, we found a double layered blue flowy skirt that we got from a garage sale, and carefully cut it along the seams to make two even-sized pieces containing a strip of chiffon and a strip of the heavier bottom layer, connected at the top seam. I bunched them up a little bit and sewed one on each side between the two shoulder pads.
Lastly, I found mardi gras beads from garage sales/costume trunk, and sewed strips onto the end of the shoulder pads so they would look sort of like commander armor/pads. I sewed the last bits of the silver belt onto the top of the shoulder pads, and I had myself a weird, wonderful, strange, random, and awesome little outfit piece!! I wish I got closer up photos of it – it was super cool. Maybe I’ll have to wear it again!
Shiny silver gloves – Amazon! These are them.
Black bralette top – garage sale, believe it or not.
Black + Silver Belt – my senior winter formal belt from high school.
High waisted velvet bottoms – honestly a pair of old women’s size large underwear from Ross. I got a two-pack for about $8, and somehow they are absolutely perfect festival wear!
High black sheer socks – found at the bottom of the sock drawer
Fur boots – again, garage sale steal.
Burning Man Costume #5: Mermaid Goddess
Strange white sequin headdress with asymmetrical pearls – GARAGE SALE! This was from the estate sale of a theater performer who had made this by hand. Pretty incredible.
Red/Pink Wig – leftover from a costume in college. No idea how it still fell properly.
Pink Reflective Sunglasses – these here from Amazon
Mermaid Cape – repurposed little girls’ little mermaid costume/dress from a garage sale.
The cape used to be a dress with sleeves and a mermaid tail. But, I cut the sleeves off, sewed it up, fastened velcro to the purple sequin bit that would go across the chest, and put it around my neck. The rest of the dress and mermaid tail then fell behind me as a perfect mermaid cape!
Shell Flash tattoo – garage sale
Shell Bra – very proudly made myself using shells collected on my travels hot glued to an old pink bra!
Pink high-waisted wetsuit bottoms – found by mum at a garage sale!
Red + Pink Garter – borrowed from a friend at camp to help keep my stockings up, and ended up adding greatly to the outfit!
White High Stockings: Again, Amazon – $6. See them here.
Boots: Same as the past few days – garage sale find.
‘Bubbles’ Umbrella – I bought a ton of white balloons at Michael’s and wired them to my umbrella to look like the mermaid’s undersea bubbles. It was a great prop, and the balloons did not fall off due to the wiring!
Night Time Burning Man Costumes/Extra Thrifty Goodness
Although I was there 7 days, the rest of my Burning Man costumes were mostly comprised of other epic, crazy patterned, usually-an-old-grandma’s clothing items. I didn’t get many photos apart from these 5 days, but I have a few final tips + stories to leave you with:
MASSIVE fur coat – found about 4 years ago at a garage sale for $10. Always knew Burning Man would be JUST the place ????
Little leather multi-pocketed backpack – garage sale
Scuba Mark + Snorkel – this was a funny idea I had before Burning Man to actually use scuba goggles as my Burning Man goggles and to keep the snorkel attached for comedic/ironic effect (given the depths of the music, the desert, etc…).
People greatly enjoyed when I would come swimming up to them on the dance floors or randomly breathe out of my snorkel. It was hilarious and added to the best kind of weirdness that is Burning Man. But the next day, I received one of the highest compliments of my whole week.
Someone turned to me and said, “You know what, I really thought I had seen it all at Burning Man over the years. I’ve seen the strangest shit, the weirdest costumes, and honestly just about everything you could imagine. But this is honestly the first time I have seen someone with a snorkel and scuba mask, and it’s hilarious. I love it.”
It basically made my entire day to be told I was the first person at Burning Man to do something weird, and I will treasure it for the rest of time! ???? So basically this means you can steal all my ideas except for this one – I consider it my trademark and will carry it out each and every year.