Santa Cruz Good Times

Saturday
Feb 13th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Playa Style

geoffGeoffrey Nelson on the art of Burning Man costuming

Geoffrey Nelson’s artist loft at the Tannery Arts Center in Santa Cruz is brimming with eye-catching Burning Man costumes. Mannequins in elaborate getups stand around in the bright, open space, hinting at the troves of funky clothes hiding in the home’s many closets (including the kitchen pantry) that are stuffed with Black Rock City digs.

Nelson shares his clothing creativity with fellow Burners—veterans and “newbies,” alike—in annual costume workshops.

He wasn’t born a costume aficionado, however. “My first time, I thought wearing a hair clip was really radical,” he laughs. “I walked around with this hair clip on top of my head.” But after 12 years of going to Burning Man, Nelson has his playa style down: like his theme camp, Mo’s Mini Martinis and Erotica, it draws heavily on a Bedouin aesthetic, which harkens back to childhood years he spent living in Morocco and is fitting for the festival’s desert environment.

While his daytime outfits capture a mellow Arabic influence, his nighttime getups are big, bold and colorful. He has an impressive collection of marching band uniforms, as well as traditional Masonic garb. “The Masons are getting rid of all of their traditional, ritual clothes, so I buy them on eBay for around $20,” he explains. He enlivens these already striking outfits with “EL” wire (a long-lasting, durable wire that glows brightly) to make it pop in the desert darkness.

When it comes to dressing for Burning Man, Nelson stresses that one style does not fit all. geoff2

“What I encourage in the workshop is for people to try to figure out what would help them express themselves, and go from there, rather than saying, ‘fur is out,’” he says with a laugh. “It’s more about, ‘what is it that you find interesting? When you dress up for something, what feels natural?’ It’s a brainstorming event.”

In past years, Nelson has held these workshops mainly in Nevada over the summer. However, now that he is one of three official Santa Cruz Burning Man Regional Contacts, he plans to do a workshop locally, as well.    

Among the advice in his workshops, Nelson warns against forcing anything. “I don’t use the word ‘costume’ too much,” he says. “’Costumes’ gives the sense that you’re dressing up as someone else. But for me, Burning Man is really a way you can express yourself without worrying about anything else. It’s not about being someone else, it’s about being yourself. You don’t want to force it.”

He often reminds first timers that, while you may feel more at home at Burning Man if you are dressed creatively, it’s certainly not necessary. He tells the story of some newbies who saw a man walking down the street at Burning Man in “normal” clothes. “They started yelling ‘no spectators! No spectators!’ at this guy, and, well, the guy ended up being Larry Harvey”—the founder of Burning Man. For those who don’t dress up, Nelson says, “because it is a participant city, I would hope they then contribute in other ways.”

Letting your creativity soar through what you wear is a fun and easy way to participate in the colorful city, he says.

“I’ve always thought of costumes and outfits as another gift—just like the art cars, art, and fire, the costumes are another creative gift that people give to other citizens of the city,” Nelson explains.

But there is an obstacle to costume greatness that troubles each and every Burner: no matter how many amazing items or ideas you have, once you pass through the gates of Black Rock City, you’re unlikely to pull them together like you had hoped.

“You think that you’re going to want to make decisions out there, but Burning Man is really not a good place for making decisions,” Nelson says. “Any decision you’re going to make is either going to be bad or not great.” He attributes this to heat, exhaustion, a messy, dusty tent, and a number of other inevitable Burning Man side effects.

geoff3“It gets so confusing out there with all that stuff, so I have a system I use,” he says. Essentially, that system consists of making decisions ahead of time so that “the only choice once you’re there will be which outfit to wear.”

Here’s how it works:
-Before Burning Man, Nelson decides on an outfit for each day and each night that he will be at the festival. No more, and no less. “Don’t bring anything else,” he advises.
-Next, he photographs himself in each outfit. (He keeps a thick photo album filled with photos of his costumes—a nice reference guide for when Halloween or a costume party is fast approaching.)
-Each costume goes into a large Ziploc bag, to which the corresponding photo is clipped or taped. Not only does this simplify the dressing process, it also makes for easier and more organized packing.
-For bulkier jackets and nighttime outfits, Nelson brings along a closet rod that he keeps in the back of his car during the event. “I put the pants, shirt, jacket and hat on a hanger, then I clip a photo of the outfit to it,” Nelson says. “Then I put a rod in the back of the car with the night outfits hanging on it, and leave it in the car. I open up the backseat of the car—it’s always dust free—I grab one and put it on.”
-As for accessories, he also recommends planning those out ahead of time, and placing them in a smaller Ziploc bag within the larger bag containing the outfit.

The whole process takes some diligence beforehand, but Nelson says, “Once you’ve done it, it is just so easy.”

Stay tuned to Santacruzburners.org for details about Nelson’s costume workshop. In the meantime, here are a few more tips from the costume whiz.
-Utilize local treasure troves like the Santa Cruz Flea Market and thrift stores. You can find many a funky item at these locations, as well as cheap clothes that you can rework yourself. “You can repurpose a lot of stuff really cheaply,” Nelson says.
-A touch of EL wire goes a long way in making a warm nighttime outfit into something everyone will enjoy. (Not to mention it will keep you from getting run over by bikes and art cars.)
-If you fear an outfit may be “too out there,” Nelson says to bring it anyway. “Because then you’ll see, oh it’s OK to wear this stuff and it’s fun,” he says. “At first you might not be sure, and then you realize that nobody is noticing you. You’ll realize, ‘I’m wearing thigh highs and a garter belt and no one is staring at me.’”

PHOTOS BY KEANA PARKER.

Comments (4)Add Comment
...
written by Geoffrey Nelson, June 28, 2012
The Costume Workshop in Reno on June 30 and July 1st is at the Nevada Museum of Art. Here is the link

http://www.nevadaart.org/shop/productview?pid=1011
...
written by a guest, June 11, 2012
More fun costume ideas at acmeplaya.com, if you are interested. It is a commercial site, the stuff is for sale, but Burners own and run the company.
...
written by a guest, June 08, 2012
If anyone going to Burning Man needs to rent a buy a mannequin to display their costumes - give Mannequin Madness, located in Oakland, Ca - a call. We have been supporting Burning Man attendees with their mannequin needs for 10 years.
...
written by a guest, June 06, 2012
Our fearless leader. Such a PR slut and proud of it. Good on ya mate! Long live Mo's!

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of February 12

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Pub Watch

Mega gastro pub-in-progress at the Old Sash Mill, plus the best pasta dish downtown

 

How do you know love is real?

When you feel the groove in your heart and you’re inspired to dance. Becca Bing, Boulder Creek, Teacher

 

Temple of Umami

Watsonville’s Miyuki is homestyle cooking, Japanese-style

 

How would you stop people from littering?

Teach them from the time that they’re small that it’s not an appropriate behavior. Juliet Jones, Santa Cruz, Claims Adjuster