AfrikaBurn isn’t a party or a festival. It’s “a radical experiment in self reliance”. That means that everything you need for survival and comfort in the Karoo desert needs to come with you and leave with you. There’s no organized entertainment and there’s nothing for sale. But there’s music playing from themed camps and huge stages all day and all night. There’s art scattered all over the desert. There are thousands of colourful lights wrapped around bicycles and people twinkling in the pitch dark. It’s a surreal experience of participation and inclusion. It’s not a barter economy, but rather a gifting economy – and people gift everything from ice cream cones in the midday heat to lifts on the back of mutant vehicles in the dead of night. It’s very hot and very dusty and very hard to get there, but it’s also very very worth it.
While I was obsessively planning meals and making sure I had enough fairy lights and batteries to light up at least half the Karoo, I kind of forgot to plan any cool outfits for my second trip to AfrikaBurn. The official theme for the 2017 Burn was “Play”, but the general vibe for outfits is normally kind of “everything goes”.
Most people throw together post apocalyptic inspired goggles and steam punk gear, combined with a good dose of nudity. I had like two hours max to shop the night before we left, so I basically panic-shopped. The eclectic selection I threw into my basket provided the perfect balance between “wearable” and “completely nuts”.
My AfrikaBurn 2017 Wardrobe
I found a cute military green bra top, paired it with a chiffon skirt and head scarf in the same colour and decided the look was probably based on a military ballerina of some sort. It wasn’t too wild, so it was a great look to ease into the Burn on the first day. If you’re not sure about how nude is too nude at AfrikaBurn, don’t worry – you’ll get over any insecurity after the first couple of hours.
I paired a light pink body suit with black fishnet stockings and a sheer black kimono. It was kind of risqué, but still covered everything and made me feel quite girly and pretty. It also made for some great sunset photos, so I would definitely recommend anything sheer and flowing. To add to the whole look, I painted the top half of my face metallic bronze.
At home I found a couple of pieces of fabric I brought back from India and ended up wearing them as a skirt and head scarf with metallic blue body paint as a top. I wore this on the fourth day, when I’d already seen hundreds of people completely naked, so I felt very comfortable.
The terrain is harsh – dry and rocky and super dusty, so I mostly wore my Timberland boots, which actually added a cool element to my outfits.
My AfrikaBurn Fashion Survival Guide
You can never have too much face paint at the Burn. We had a bunch of metallic colours, which looked amazing in the day, but even better at night, every time the strobe lights hit them. This is also a great gift, so make sure you take enough so that you can offer to paint strangers who walk by your camp.
All that glitters (except actual glitter, which ruins the environment). Shiny things look great against the desert backdrop, and especially in the golden light of the beautiful sunsets. Also, when else would you have the opportunity to wear head-to-toe shiny?
If ever there was an event that celebrates body diversity and confidence, this is it. First of all, there’s no access to full-length mirrors, so spending hours assessing every “imperfection” on your body is not an option. I found this incredibly liberating and I loved the opportunity to disappear into a crowd of people of all shapes and sized and levels of nudity.
You never know what the weather is going to do, so it’s best to pack layers. The first year I went (2011), the days were warm but the evenings were below freezing. This year, the days were sweltering and the evenings were balmy. It also rained, and we had a dust storm. So make sure you’ve got enough to keep you cool in the day and warm at night.
You can never have enough battery powered fairy lights in the middle of the desert. They work really well wrapped around your body under sheer clothing. Or wrapped around your head. Or your bicycle. I mean, they’re a must.
Don’t get me wrong, AfrikaBurn is not a fashion parade. But it’s the perfect excuse to dress up, have fun with fashion and express yourself.