BPL to celebrate fashion, individuality, and its 125th birthday at ‘The People’s Ball’

person on stage at brooklyn public library at the people's ball
The Brooklyn Public Library started throwing The People’s Ball way back in 2018, inviting Brooklynites of all stripes to come strut their stuff in the Central Branch. The event is back on May 1.
Gregg Richards courtesy Brooklyn Public Library

Move over, Met Gala! The Brooklyn Public Library is getting ready to host its own fashion-loving extravaganza to celebrate its 125th birthday on May 1 with a fashion celebration dubbed “The People’s Ball,” an inclusive, fun event for the borough’s clothes horses.

The fabled “First Monday in May” draws eyes from all over the world as well-dressed stars dazzle on the steps of the Met. But this year, the real action is at BPL’s Central Branch in Grand Army Plaza on the first Sunday in May, when hundreds of New Yorkers will gather in the library’s beautiful lobby to celebrate authenticity and self-expression.

“Open and welcoming to all, the People’s Ball is a chance to showcase Brooklynites in all of our creative, idiosyncratic, resilient glory,” said BPL’s President and CEO Linda E. Johnson. “We are thrilled to welcome people from across the borough to celebrate one another in one of the most democratic and creative spaces in the borough.”

BPL hosted the first edition of The People’s Ball in December 2018, drawing about 1,000 people decked out in their favorite outfits to mingle, walk the runway and celebrate fashion and creativity with their like-minded neighbors.

person at people's ball 2018
Brooklynites are invited to walk the runway in their favorite clothes at The People’s Ball, a celebration of creativity, fashion, and, this year, BPL’s 125th anniversary. Gregg Richards courtesy Brooklyn Public Library

The point of the free event is not to be “best” dressed, or to stick to an objective or out-of-reach aesthetic. The library encourages participants to “dress up in the clothes that make you feel your most beautiful and authentic.” Every outfit, whether it’s a designer ball gown or everyday jeans and a T-shirt, will be celebrated in equal measure, so long as the wearer is comfortable and true to themselves.

“Brooklyn is home to some of the most diverse communities on the planet. The People’s Ball is a celebration of free expression and creativity; we ask our guests to show up simply as they are,” said László Jakab Orsós, vice president of arts and culture at Brooklyn Public Library.

Hosted by authors Isaac Fitzgerald and Scaachi Koul, The People’s Ball will feature performances by Rimarkable, musician Inyang Bassey, opera-singing aerialist Opera Gaga, and Paris the Hip-Hop Juggler. The Ball will also feature a host of special guests including Joe Baker, co-founder of The Lenape Center, fashion curator Souleo, and artist and fashion designer Damian Joël.

While each guest and performer is important, Joël has a special place in BPL’s heart. In 2019, the designer took part in the library’s BKLYN Fashion Academy, an intensive program geared toward helping blossoming fashion designers get their feet in the business world while creating a series of mini clothing collections. The Fashion Academy was Joël’s first experience with formal training in the fashion world, and one he would not have been able to afford if it hadn’t been offered for free through the library, he noted in a 2019 Instagram post

bklyn fashion academy show
A student shows off their work at a 2019 BKLYN Fashion Academy show. The Fashion Academy is one of the library’s fashion-centered programs, which will be topped off with The People’s Ball on May 1. File photo by Trey Pentecost

The runway is a rare sight at the library, but supporting all New Yorkers in their creative endeavors, including exploring fashion, isn’t. Along with boosting up-and-coming designers at the Fashion Academy each year, BPL’s programming includes regular fashion-focused events like a talk with the Grandassa Models from the historic “Naturally ’62” fashion show, who will also be featured guests at The People’s Ball. 

This spring, BPL launched “Sew Brooklyn,” as part of the library’s annual incubator program. Thanks to Sew Brooklyn and FABSCRAP, there’s a new item in the library’s catalogue: sewing machines. Brooklynites looking to create some brand-new designs or simply mend their favorite existing clothes can check a machine out for up to three weeks, and will receive a voucher for free fabric. The program is complimented by a range of sewing classes. 

Admission is free but sending an RSVP is preferred — as is wearing a mask.

“Over the past 125 years, Brooklyn Public Library has always been committed to embracing our incredible Brooklyn community,” Orsós said. “This event is a celebration of the best that Brooklyn has to offer.”