So you’ve decided to take the plunge and go to Camp John Waters, the Filthiest Camp on Earth, hosted by filmmaker John Waters, the Prince of Puke himself. As a Camp John Waters virgin, one of the first things you might be asking yourself is: “What do I bring?!?”
I’m gonna get very specific here, but don’t take my words as gospel—take what you like and leave the rest. I’m erring on the side of “wild and glam” packers, but don’t worry if you are a shorts and T-shirt person—plenty of campers aren’t big on dressing up and we all still have a scandalously good time.
My best suggestion for camp fashion ideas is to marathon a bunch of John Waters movies while on your substance of choice (including caffeine) and take notes on JW style that inspires you, or even snap pics right off the screen.
Camp John Waters takes place at Club Getaway in Kent, Connecticut. No joke, this camp is in THE WOODS. The cabins are nice and the service is excellent, but do not waltz in expecting the Four Seasons. This is camp, my friends—come prepared. If there’s an emergency, you can hit up a local convenience store for Advil or whatever, but it’s better to have your shit with you (or bum what you need off another camper) so you don’t miss out on the non-stop activities.
Pre-game. Get your haircut/color, mani/pedi, eyebrow-shaping, and other salon needs done before John Waters Camp. Schedule your beauty needs in advance—you don’t want to show up with grown-in ROOTS, do you?!? (Unless it’s a particular character you are going for.)
Costumes. There is always the big Costume Contest where campers go all-out to have the most creative interpretations of the John Waters universe—costumes have included a half-Donald-half-Donna-Dasher mashup from Female Trouble, a Divine Human Centipede, and the dog poop in Pink Flamingos. You don’t have to bring a costume, but it enhances the experience. There is also a Talent Contest, so if you have a talent (singing/dancing/burlesque/drag/flatulism/etc.), bring your gear! Have an emergency costume repair kit: hot glue gun, travel scissors, safety pins, needle and thread, fashion tape/pastie tape, hem tape, and/or duck tape.
Party wear. In addition to the main Costume Contest, there are random theme parties—Twist Challenge, 70s Dance Party, 80s Trash Party, Rainbow March, etc. Basically know there is a party going on all the time, so let your freak flag fly. If you don’t want to pack too much, accessories can make a look. A fit-and-flare 1950s-type dress paired with outrageous makeup, teased hair, bangle bracelets, and pointy shoes is suddenly a 1980s outfit.
Camp wear. You know those skimpy tops and novelty t-shirts you have laying around that are too tacky or obscene for everyday life? Camp John Waters is where you wear them to hike/zipline/trampoline bounce/shoot arrows. Booty shorts, skintight yoga pants, and/or 1950s-style capris (hysterectomy pants, I call them!) are also in order. Or go upper-crust and dress à la Cuddles Kovinsky (Edith Massey) from Polyester and wear tennis whites or an equestrian ensemble. Be part of the Popular Slut Club!
Resort wear. There is a definite John Water Camp version of resort wear—caftans, day pajamas, and silk robes are all popular choices among campers (in bed and outdoors). I always bring a slinky 1970s-style disco dress—it doesn’t wrinkle, I don’t need a bra, and I look like I’m ready to do blow with Mick Jagger and Divine at Studio 54.
Swimwear/swim gear. Camp John Waters is on a lake, so bring your favorite tiny bikini/retro bathing suit/swim trunks/speedo, even if you only plan to catch some rays. I recommend bringing a couple of options so you don’t have to put up with a damp swimsuit. Also, more outfits to party in! Bring a beach coverup/sarong, swim cap (to protect your hairdo), ear plugs, swim goggles, and/or swim toys if you wanna. Club Getaway provides towels, but I know some of you prefer your own sleazy big beach towel.
Cold/rainy weather wear. It’s mid-September in Connecticut, so the weather is going to vary A LOT. The first two years were so warm that I basically lived in my swimsuits. The third year was so cold at night, I wore my leopard-print coat over everything (as camper Nate Watson pointed out, leopard print is a neutral at Camp John Waters). A motorcycle jacket is Cry-Baby-esque and a practical choice for stormy weather—there is a reason that bikers wear them in rain, sleet, and snow. Or a trench coat for flashing! Have a hoodie/cardigan/pullover sweater, a long-sleeve T-shirt, a pair of long pants/jeans, and/or warm tights to be able to throw on if it gets chilly. My most-used garment was a long black duster that felt like a casual cardigan but looked witchy–I threw it on over swimsuits and evening gowns equally.
Sleep wear. Bring your whimsical sleepover clothes—chiffon peignoir sets, unicorn onesies, piped pajamas, marabou feather robes, etc. Having interesting sleepwear also multiplies your party outfits. Most mornings I rolled out of bed and went straight to breakfast wearing the babydoll nightie I slept in, topped off by a robe and satin bedroom slippers.
Camp footwear. The campground is extremely rocky, hilly, and often damp and muddy (to the chagrin of every camper in platform stripper heels trying to make their way back to their cabin in the dark). I recommend at least one pair of sneakers for actual camp activities, one pair of water-resistant shoes/boots (get water-resistant sneakers if you want to pare down your number of shoes), and one pair of water-resistant sandals/flip-flops/water shoes. Slippers to wear inside the cabin is a smart idea—go posh or go tacky.
Fancy footwear. If you bring heels, make sure they are broken-in and field-tested, or they will end up staying in your bag. The ONLY exception is if they are a critical element of one or more of your costumes—then be sure to stash a pair of more comfortable shoes in your handbag so you don’t ruin your feet OR your fabulous shoes (the main hall is dark, and some campers will be too tipsy to see your gorgeous rhinestone-encrusted stilettos, meaning your poor toes WILL get stepped on). A pair of attractive flat shoes (ballet flats/sandals/Mary Janes/saddle shoes/oxfords) is ideal if you want to wear something fetching but don’t want to twist your ankle while trekking downhill. The shoes I ended up wearing the most were: my Hush Puppy ballet flats, my Chuck Taylors, and my most comfortable Mary Jane heels (all black, in that order).
Underwear/socks. Bring your best bras (if you wear them), underpants (if you wear them) and socks—and bring extra, you Nasty Pig. Life is too short to suffer in holey undies or damp socks (unless it’s a deliberate “filthy” choice). Depending on what kind of activities you are planning on, you may need a sports bra. In addition to the more practical underwear/socks, bring the sexy stuff—burlesque bras, corsets, garters, girdles, g-strings, jockstraps, fishnets, seamed stockings. Again, more outfits!
And don’t forget a laundry bag for your dirty laundry.
Accessories. I love a big sunhat! If that’s not your thing, bring whatever you usually use to keep off the rays: baseball cap, motorcycle cap, visor, panama, etc. Stash a warm hat and gloves in your bag if you get chilled easily (I prefer berets and cashmere-lined leather gloves). Sunglasses are key, have backups. Yes to costume jewelry, leave the real shit at home—you don’t want your heirloom emerald ring ending up on the bottom of the lake. Scarves for sweat or fashion or warmth are easy to pack. If you don’t have pockets, have a cute handbag/holster bag/belt bag/backback for your wallet (that fits your passport, driver’s ID, and debit/credit cards)/phone/mirror compact/water bottle/condoms. An umbrella (I am partial to vintage-style pagodas) is crucial in the event of rain—you don’t want your wig, makeup, and costume ruined in a 5 minute walk to the dinner tent. Which reminds me—wigs are an excellent option so you don’t have to worry about doing your hair after a dip in the lake!
Toiletries/cosmetics. Other than towels and hand soap, no toiletries are provided in the cabins, so bring your own: oral care, skin care, vision care, hair-styling products, shower essentials, manicure kit, hair-removal products, menstrual products, sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer, lip balm, deodorant (not just for armpits—I use Weleda Citrus Deodorant to spritz on my hoodie if it’s getting a little funky) etc. If you are a light sleeper, bring a sleeping mask and earplugs. Sunscreen, bug spray, and hand sanitizer should be in your bag. Pack your prescription meds, over-the-counter medication, and vitamins. If you’re bringing makeup, you already know you want to bring ALL OF IT, but maybe go over your costume/party outfits and make sure you have the cosmetics you need. I successfully packed my toiletries, my cosmetics, and my ConAir Curl Secret into one makeup train case, but I might have even pared down that if I had allowed myself more time.
Electronics/gear. In addition to your phone/tablet/laptop/camera and accessories (don’t forget charging cables, earbuds/headphones, and batteries), bring along a power strip (or have one of your cabin mates bring one) so you don’t have to fight for outlets. It might be worthwhile to bring a small Bluetooth speaker to listen to trashy tunes while you put on your makeup/costumes. See if you can coordinate hair appliances with your cabin mates so you don’t have 6 hair dryers cluttering up the bathroom for no reason. A compact flashlight might be worth bringing if you are into, um, exploring (plus everyone needs a lighter/matches now and again). If you’re into… birdwatching, have a pair of of binoculars at the ready. A Leatherman is handy (but don’t bring one if you have to walk through airline security). If you need to unwrinkle clothing, bring a travel steamer (they are pretty compact). WiFi/data coverage is sometimes spotty, which can be a good thing—enjoy the moment!
Luggage. You are limited only by your car trunk/baggage overages! But I would get a suitcase with wheels.
Alcohol. If you are a saucy boozehound, get the drink bracelet (available when you buy the Camp John Waters ticket) for unlimited drinks. Remember to bring cash to tip your bartender—there are no ATMs at camp! Outside alcohol is verboten.
Food. Food is included, it is buffet style, there is plenty, and there is a variety for every diet (vegan to carnivore). Talk to Camp Getaway if you have specific dietary needs.
But wait, there’s more! A lot of crafty/flea market campers bring sleazy items for selling/swapping/crafting. Bring your own crass crafts, or enjoy others’ rough trade. Campers are also free to decorate their cabins to celebrate their erotic lifestyle! Jot down your dirty shameful memories in a journal. If you need a book or two for downtime, not only has John Waters written multiple fine books, he has a slew of fabulous book recommendations in Role Models (I highly recommend We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver). If your a card game aficionado, Cards Against Humanity is on-theme for Camp John Waters. Have an adult coloring book on hand if that’s your thing (this coloring book has farting flamingos).