Want to stand out at Burning Man? Wear jeans and a T-shirt.

Don’t get caught dressed in normal clothes at Burning Man

Esther Triggs of polyESTHERS Unique Boutique models some of the clothes she’s modified to sell as costumes for Burning Man.

Esther Triggs of polyESTHERS Unique Boutique models some of the clothes she’s modified to sell as costumes for Burning Man.

Photo By Kat Kerlin

At my first Burning Man experience, I did the unthinkable. No, no Ecstasy-riddled orgies or unprotected fires on the playa. Nothing so fun as that.

I arrived without a costume.

Walking among stilt walkers with stuffed horse heads, winged fairy princesses of both genders, and naked-but-for-body-paint Burners, there I was, in my “normal” clothes—and I’ve never felt like such a freak.

“I think dressing up is one of the easiest ways to participate,” says Mairin Tausch, manager of Melting Pot World Emporium and an eight-year Burning Man veteran. “One of the first rules of Burning Man is ‘no spectators.’ If you’re not dressed up, you’re really just observing. At Burning Man, you get to transform yourself, and again, one of the easiest ways to do that is through your clothes.”

Forgive me. I was new to Nevada and certainly new to Black Rock City. Now I know better, and I know where to go in Reno to suit me up in order to do Burning Man right.

Fabulous burn

The Melting Pot World Emporium
1049 S. Virginia St., (775) 322-9445
Mon.-Fri.: 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat: 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun: 12 p.m.-5 p.m.

The Melting Pot is Burning Man central. Aside from Burning Man books, DVDs, and Burning Man tickets, this place is fraught with fantastic costumes. To enter the shop midday in mid-August is to witness the calm before the storm. One male customer peruses the funky hats and playa-dust-deflecting goggles. Another shopper tells her friend, “I want furry stuff all over me.” But it’s hardly swarmed with people. Just wait.

“The week before [Burning Man] is mayhem in here,” says manager Tausch.

Customers will find plenty to choose from. Women can dress up as sexy Robin Hoods with feathered cap and bustier. There are fuzzy bikini tops with fairy wings, genie pants, glittery blue hats, sequined belts and scarves, the all-important glow sticks, and warm fuzzy hats. (It gets cold on the playa at night.) Fishnet stockings, bumblebee striped stockings and clothing made from sheer, glittery, fanciful material hangs on racks taking up at least half of this store. Feathers aren’t allowed at the playa—Burning Man is “green” now, remember?—but Melting Pot sells “playa safe” boas. This store goes out of its way to find some of the most creative, beautiful, unusual costumes in town.

Sexy burn

Chocolate Walrus
1278 S. Virginia St., (775) 825-2267
Mon.-Sat: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun.: 12 p.m.-6 p.m.

If costumes relay what people really want to be in real life, then many people—women especially—at Burning Man want to be powerfully, dramatically, irresistibly sexy.

Chocolate Walrus, with its ruffly panties, naughty maid and she-devil costumes, and chocolate penises and vaginas (these will likely melt on the playa) is a fine place to start.

The lingerie store’s entire bottom floor is devoted to costumes. Sales representative Courtney Beck points out sparkly gold chaps, fake fur vests and a Burning Man-oriented line from designer J. Valentine. She holds up a skimpy bra-and-shorts set dangling with fake coins that will surely jingle-jangle every time its occupant moves. There are short skirts for mischievous school girls, nurse uniforms that wouldn’t be allowed at St. Mary’s Hospital, and accessories like body jewelry, pasties and long, multicolored, fake eyelashes. Next to the costume room is a hat room, featuring pimp hats, cowboy hats, firefighter hats and others.

“Costumes are a big thing,” says daytime manager Suzie Chandara. “I think because they like to dress up crazy, and Burning Man is a time to be a free spirit. They don’t want to just wear their everyday clothes.”

Homemade burn

polyESTHERS Unique Boutique
Wildflower Village, W. Fourth St., No. 7, (775) 336-7573
Open in August and October; Fri. from 1p.m.-6p.m., Sat. and Sun. from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and by appointment

Inside polyESTHERS Unique Boutique, Esther Triggs is holding up a cranberry red dress that’s newly received a black fur lining along its v-neck. She calls it the “furry pink vagina” costume. “That was my grandma’s,” says Triggs. “She was a hottie.”

For about 10 years, Triggs has been collecting and revamping clothes from thift stores, grandmas, great aunts, her mom and anywhere she can find them and turning them into costumes. This month, she opened polyESTHERS in a small room at Wildflower Village and is selling her costumes for Burning Man and Halloween.

What once was part of a blue bath mat now joins a string of seashells to line the hem of a turquoise frock. A zebra-patterned coat from Savers has been embellished with shoulder pads made from a pink wig—she calls this one “Sgt. Pepper.” Two stuffed monkey heads that were once on a pair of goofy slippers found hilarious new life when Triggs sewed them onto the cups of a bra.

“I collect this shit all year long,” she says, holding up some plastic pinwheels from Target she intends to turn into “pinwheel ta-tas.”

Triggs tries to keep everything under $50, except when, she says, “it’s too fabulous for $50,” at which point she’ll go up to $100. She’s also trying to get more “king and queen” sizes in, as not everyone on the playa is a size 6.

The boutique is open every weekend from now until Burning Man, will reopen again for October weekends leading up to Halloween, and by appointment. Triggs says she’ll also hold “bitch and stitch” sessions throughout the year for people to make their own Burning Man costumes, trade materials and outfits with others, and ultimately give them a venue to sell what they make.

“The minute that you change your clothes, it’s almost like being an actor—it gives the facade of another person,” says Triggs. “I know so many doctors and moms and lawyers that go to Burning Man. The whole rest of the year, they have to be professional and live this thing that other people say they are or their degree says they are or their birth certificate says they are, which is what they are. But then, everybody needs a chance to get out of their own skin and let loose.”

She adds, “You don’t need a ticket to Burning Man to dress Burning Man. You don’t need somebody else to make an event for you to dress up and be fabulous. You just need a few good friends to back you up, and make your own idea. Start your own Burning Man.”

Worth mentioning burns

If you have a few ounces of creativity, you can come up with a relatively cheap costume at any thrift store in town. Junkee Clothing Exchange (960 S. Virginia St., (775) 322-5865) has a selection of Burning Man costume attire in its “Burner Boutique”—a leotard adorned with gummy bears and tootsie rolls was one recently spied selection. In Truckee, Vivian Sable, owner of Unique Boutique (10925 River Loop, (530) 582-8484) has some Burn-worthy offerings. Prism Magic Clothing (2161 Pyramid Way, (775) 356-5577) in Sparks also carries playa wear, petticoats, hats, hair extensions and costumes for Burning Man. They’ll also help you design whatever costume you want.

Whatever you wear at Burning Man, even if it’s absolutely nothing, let it be vastly different from what you wear the rest of the year.