Out & About with Mike Pingel: Gold Coast Red Dress Party – A Celebration of Life

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Photos & Text by Mike Pingel

The first time I ever attended the Red Dress Party at The Gold Coast bar was probably before cellphones were invented. I would say about 10 years ago. I was a Red Charlie’s Angel of sorts. I wore what can best be described as a skort (skirt/short combo) only it was a pant/skirt number with a red Jaclyn Smith (aka Kelly Garrett) t-shirt covering my top portion. My hair was au naturel, so basically I was a butch, Angel. I LOVED IT! People thought I was heavenly. I assume, because I kept karate-chopping guy’s hands away from my heavenly parts.

I always look forward to the yearly Red Dress party after that first time I attended. This year was off to a good start. I was so excited to find a dress for a whole $7.49 at a thrift shop in Burbank. The name on the tag read Christie of California (SOLD!). It was a beautiful red potato sack number with a sash that smelled like… a sack of potatoes, mixed with man sweat and thrift store rot. I thought it was very Golden Girls meets Dame Edna.

My friends begged to differ. I sent them photos of me in the dress. The responses I got were: “That’s hideous!” “No! Unless you’re going for the Grandma look.” “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” “You’re going to be toast, not the toast of the town in THAT!”

Well, I didn’t think it was that bad (you be the judge). I was honestly channeling Blanche Devereaux from “The Golden Girls.” I thought it would at least make people laugh.

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This was the 21st Red Dress Party at the Gold Coast. I recently learned that it was created out of a vow between two of the Gold Coast bartenders, Mark Ferguson and Yves-Claude. Both men were HIV+ during a time when being HIV+ was like a death sentence. The twosome made a pact with each other that whoever passed away first, the other would go to their funeral wearing a red dress. Mark was known for dressing up in drag and visiting some of the HIV/AIDS wards at hospitals. He was also often seen in full drag and hanging out behind the Gold Coast bar. It was his way of making the most out of life and making people laugh.

Sadly, Mark was the first who passed away. Yves-Claude could not attend his memorial because he was out of town. When Yves-Claude returned, Bob Hasting, the owner of the bar came up with the idea to create an event and invite everyone to wear a red dress in celebration of Mark’s life.

In 1997, the Red Dress Party debuted on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and La Jolla Avenue. The entire bar was a sea of red feathers, rhinestones, glitter, wigs, and exaggerated lips.

Yves-Claude lost his battle to complications of AIDS a few years later, but he was able to see the impact the Red Dress party had on the West Hollywood community.

The tradition continued this past Sunday, July 15 with the 21st Annual Red Dress Party at The Gold Coast Bar. Everyone was encouraged to wear a red dress or some kind of red outfit. The entire bar (and the parking lot) was filled with joy, laughter, and lots of red! DJ Chub Jim and DJ Jeff kept the party rocking inside and out as they spun some of the best music in town.

In my opinion, this year didn’t turn out that many crazy outfits like I’ve seen in years past. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a little desensitized from the insane getups I’ve been forced to witness over the years. The common theme this past weekend was a red thong (there were zero complaints!). Compare a red thong to what one guy wore years ago with a red string that wrapped around parts of his body (as in his private parts – unless I dreamed that)!

A stand out for me this past weekend were the Red Ladies which paid homage to the Pink Ladies (from the movie Grease). Another stand out was the gorgeous muscle guy in the green tank top (he didn’t wear red at least not visible, but no one cared).

The event had a huge turnout that included local WeHo residents, visitors, and some familiar faces such as: Naomi Grossman (American Horror Story); Bobby Trendy (The Anna Nicole Show); Dudely Beene (First Period), Steven Reigns (poet), Mikey Scott (The Mike & Teddy Show), Daniel Berilla (producer). We also had drag royalty like the Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, John Cantwell (Love Connie), Javier Ozunz (Cher-Javier) and Gert Crawford with her “Red” Ladies!

Miss Bobby Trendy and Other at the 21st Annual Red Dress Party

The event has always had a feeling of something very special. It’s a fun day where everyone is laughing (mostly at each other). People enjoy dressing up and dressing down as the night wears on. I have to admit that the minute I walked in with my “Golden Girls” Red Potato Dress, my fellow red dressers were quick to tell me how I could improve attire. I still thought it was the perfect ensemble. One person even suggested I “take it off,” but it was way too early that kind of nonsense.

I’m sure Mark Ferguson and Yves-Claude were looking down from the heavens, pointing, smiling and enjoying what they created. It was a lasting remembrance of celebrating life in a RED DRESS!

For more wacky red costumes from the Red Dress Party, check out Paul Hamel’s new book “Drag Queen for a Day.” It contains portraits of the many outrageous getups people wore from 2003 to 2013. The book is available on Amazon.