Strut Your Look in Center Camp at the People’s Fashion Show

When we talk about Burning Man fashion, we need to go back a three decades… waaaay before the explosion of scantily clad Instagram models on playa. We’re going back to the early 1990s to tap into the source of Burner style (which is still very much alive). Think found and repurposed objects blended with thrift store finds, resulting in create kitschy, campy, otherworldly looks that take on a life of their own. Outfits may be planned well in advance, or assembled in the spirit of the moment. The key: none of it is mass-produced.

Gathering fashionable weirdos since 1992 (according to this schedule in the 1992 Black Rock Gazette) the People’s Fashion Show is the longest continuously-running event in Black Rock City. Read on, dusty friends, to meet the two of the organizers who’ve made it happen since the early years.

The People’s Fashion Show: Circus Animalia welcomes YOU to Center Camp to strut your stuff on the big stage! This year it’s going down on Thursday of Burn Week, 7:30 – 8:30 pm. We’re expecting carnivalesque creatures, circus freaks and wild playa ANIMALIA of all stripes and species. To strut your stuff, assemble backstage at 7 pm.

The People’s Fashion Show: Circus ANIMALIA, 2023

In the early 1990s, The People’s Fashion Show would kick off Burn Week’s Sunday night festivities — back when the Man Burn was also on Sunday. Organizers would build a wild stage upon which anyone and everyone could strut their lewk. At some point the event migrated into Center Camp, and there the Fashion Show has pranced, preened and posed until this day. It’s still organized by some of the very people who brought it to life three decades ago.

We spoke with two of the producers and dashingly attired co-hosts — Justin Credible and Hal Robins.

Hal Robins emcees the Fashion Show, 2017 (Photo by Bill Klemens)

Hal Robins: Well, it’s important when you go to Burning Man to have something to do. And that’s one of the things I do. I’m not particularly a fashion maven person, but I do think it’s important that people lose what self-consciousness they have and full-bloodedly enjoy their playa couture and let other people see it and anything might happen. 

There are people who really create elaborate costumes. By now, I’ve had people come up to me and say, “Hey, my dad was in your show. He really loved it. I just wanted to tell you, he’s dead now.” But I think, geez, how long have I been doing this? It has been quite some time. I’ve done it every year I’ve gone out there and I hope to do it this year.

Hal Robins and Annie Coulter emcee the Fashion Show, 2000 (Photo by Christine Kristen)
Justin Credible, 2000 (Photo by Julia Ellingson)

Justin Credible: I started going in ‘95. You have to keep in mind there were way less people. And when we did something, we all did something together. The Fashion Show started in ‘93 by a woman named Annie Coulter. I know Marcia Crosby was also involved. 

I have a really distinct memory of wandering into what was back then, Center Camp, which was essentially just a parachute over a dome, and seeing these women sitting on sewing machines and making stuff. I grew up sewing, my grandmother taught me how to sew, and I remember thinking, “What is going on here?” So I went up and introduced myself, and it was Marcia and Annie, and they were sewing. They said, “We’re getting ready for the Fashion Show.” 

So Burn Night was spectacular in that everyone got together for these things. First it was the Fashion Show and it was all outdoors. And we had a huge fashion show stage… it was a T-shaped stage elevated about 10 feet off the ground. So people would run that catwalk. 

The People’s Fashion Show, 1997 (Photo by Eric Solmanson)

Justin Credible: The thing about the show back then was that there were no costumes, per se. It was all just trash. I remember one guy used to do a robot thing and he had those expandable silver air duct things on his arms. So the costumes themselves were really full of imagination and creativity — that was the brilliance behind it. And then after the show, which would sometimes go on for a couple hours, there would just be all kinds of people. 

The fashion show would sort of naturally end, and then it would turn into the Cacophony Society Cocktail Party. Everyone would be dressed to the nines. You would see men in tuxedos. And then after that, we would all march down and watch the Man Burn. So it was quite an evening of just everyone being together, the culmination of the fashion show. People who wore their outfits into the fashion show would then wear their outfits out to watch the Man Burn. 

The People’s Fashion Show: Early Years


Justin Credible: And it was just wonderful. It was a different time for sure. But one thing that has been remarkable is that the fashion show has lasted every year. We’ve made sure it has been a tradition. So this year will be its 31st year in existence, and we’ve had years that have been really outrageous. 

There was a year where I decided we would have a, what was it? A sparkle pony contest. It was just so fabulous because we had a lot of people who came up and were being sparkle ponies. And I had my friend Polly Superstar come in. She is the self-proclaimed inventor of the sparkle pony many years ago. We had a winner who was my friend, Helen Hickman, and she got on [Polly Superstar’s] back and was riding her like a horse on stage. It was just awesomely wild. 

The People’s Fashion Show: Recent Years


Justin Credible: The beauty of the fashion show is it really does bring out all kinds of amazing garb… We try to encourage people to bring your costumes that you’ve made and get on the stage. And so this year I decided, because of ANIMALIA and all the animals that would be out there, that we would do a circus theme. 

So Hal and I will be the ringleaders and we will have all of the circus animals. I used to be quite good with the bullwhip back in the day. And so we will have the ringleaders bring the circus animals into line — I mean you just really don’t know what’s going to happen. We have to really be really good at improvising, both Hal and I, because it’s just open to everybody. And we don’t know who’s going to show up. In the past, we have tried to structure it a little bit by having a performance here and there. And I might try to do that a little bit this year. 

I just am excited for everyone who has possibly ever entertained the notion of being in a fashion show, no matter what they’re wearing, to please come and be in the show. I really feel honored to be part of something that’s been going on for such a long time.

I love that I don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens. I feel like that’s such an integral part of Burning Man itself. The spontaneity of Burning Man and keeping that energy out there is really important to me.

Start planning your lewk and practicing your walk! YOU are invited to hit the catwalk at this year’s People’s Fashion Show, going down in Center Camp on Thursday, August 31, 7:00 – 8:30 pm. Drop by backstage at 7 pm to announce your participation.

(Cover photo by Bill Klemens)

About the author: Kirsten Weisenburger

Kirsten Weisenburger

Misadventures led Kirsten Weisenburger (aka kbot) to Black Rock City in 2004. She was captivated and hoodwinked into organizing theme camps, rangering and participating in Regional Events. As Communications Strategist, Kirsten works across the organization and global community gathering stories and writing for the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks, and the annual Dispatch. She went to journalism school in the 1990s and then spent two decades at startups and digital agencies.

2 Comments on “Strut Your Look in Center Camp at the People’s Fashion Show

  • LadyBee says:

    WONDERFUL!! I’m really hoping that the Animalia theme will inspire folks to make their own costumes again; I SO miss those days. Who ever imagined that “festival wear’ would become a marketable thing? Let’s not forget that making your own costume is creative, fun and radically self reliant!

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  • Anna says:

    I love reading the history. I am sure there are endless stories to be told – and it has to have been so much fun!!
    It’s my first year, and I thought the sewing machine needed to come out, and I have to hit the thrift stores…very exciting! Thanks for all the organizing!!

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