You’ll Always Remember Your First Time

Night of a Thousand Gowns, 1998 Dinner Journal

Night of a Thousand Gowns, 1998 Dinner Journal

I’d never ridden in a taxicab in a ball gown and coque feather boa before. It was an unseasonably warm day, that March 28, 1998, when I was headed from a friends apartment near Columbia to the Marriott Marquis for my very first Night of a Thousand Gowns. As luck would have, it, that was also the first time the ball would be held at the Marquis, which has been its home for every year but one since that. (Sidebar: The year that was not held there, was held at the New York Hilton, and to date is the only ball to win a Glam Award for Best Nightlife Event. Perhaps the Hilton favors our event??)

Lady Witti Repartee with Princess Royale Brenda Starr, 1998.

Lady Witti Repartee with Princess Royale Brenda Starr, 1998.

I’d joined the Imperial Court of New York in the fall at the urging of my drag mother Victoria Weston and friend from the theatre world Jeffrey Wallach. Neither had yet had their big nights, but a few years later, Victoria would become Empress XIV, and several years after that, Jeffrey would be crowned Empress XX Gefil Tefish.

I remember thinking that my boa went with my gown because there was an iridescence to the boa that picked up the light blue of my gown. I was wrong. And coque tail boas are hot and it was in my face all night. And my shoes hurt. And my jewelry was too small. Because of course it didn’t, and of course it was, and of course they did and of course it was.  But none of that mattered because I was at Night of a Thousand Gowns!   

I’d heard of it from friends in New Jersey, who all looked toward the lights of Manhattan and Night of a Thousand Gowns as the pinnacle of drag success, and here I was at 24 years old taking it all in and more — I was THERE. I was a member of the Imperial Court of New York and I was walking the runway to be presented to Emperor VII Tomas and Empress XI Gianna. Did anything else matter?

Presentation, 1998.

Lady Witti Repartee approaching Empress XI Gianna on the Runway, 1998.

1,000 people dripping in jewels? People (emotionally) comfortable with who they were and how they looked? The phenomenal opening number with Gianna in Lucille Ball’s Red Pajamas from Mame?  Gianna’s Act One outfit: a teal and fuscia Thierry Mugler inspired suit and hat designed by Fred Frick (who would one day be crowned Empress XVI Lita Austin). The glorious Scottish themed coronation walk of Imperial Crown Prince Royal William and Imperial Crown Princess Royale Panzi as they ascended toward their own Imperial titles?

I don’t remember the food. I don’t remember dance breaks, and I don’t remember a silent auction. I’m sure they were all there, but I was in such awe of the energy, the glamour, the glitter and the sense that I had found a home.

Sure, I needed to do some work on myself (Black opera gloves and a powder blue gown? Excuse me?), but that would come. For now, I was where I wanted to be and with the people I wanted to be with…and answering a call to volunteer, to raise money for others and to give back.

What was your first Night of a Thousand Gowns Like? What do you remember? Or do you need to join us on March 11, 2017 and make your own first NOATG Memories?