One of NYC’s best-dressed parties happens once a month at the Brooklyn Museum

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By Dan Sears

Thousands of people gathered at the Brooklyn Museum this past weekend for “First Saturdays,” a night of free programming that quickly turns into a party.

While some were there for the live music and the art — including the final days of an exhibition dedicated to Spike Lee — many were there for the fashion.

Sarah Dawson, 33, attended First Saturday with her partner, Basaime Spate, 35.

Photo by Bess Adler for Gothamist

“It feels so good to see people dressed up,” said Sarah Dawson, 33, who has attended First Saturdays since she was a child growing up in Brooklyn. “Everybody is coming here collectively looking beautiful.”

Dawson, a self-described Keith Haring fan, made her jacket while attending the Fashion Institute of Technology. These days, she looks for outfits that work with her pregnancy.

“I’m not a super matchy person,” she said. “I don’t care about that. As long as I feel cute when I look in the mirror, I’m good to go.”

She had styled her partner Basaime Spate, 35, in a black hat that belonged to her father and a vintage jean vest, which her mom painted with the likeness of former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.

Princess Spencer, 33, had driven up that day from Virginia to see the Lee exhibit. Her outfit paired camouflage pants and a white tank top with a jacket painted with images of Lauryn Hill, Lil’ Kim and Solange Knowles.

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Princess Spencer (also known as PS I am Dope), 33, drove from Virginia to Brooklyn for First Saturday to celebrate Black History Month.

Photo by Bess Adler for Gothamist

“There is a meme that I live by that says ‘I am going to baggy pants little shirt my way into an artsy man’s life,’ and so that’s how I live my life every day,” said Spencer, describing her sartorial choices.

Photo by Bess Adler for Gothamist

“First Saturdays is a Black event every month”

First Saturday happens on, well, the first Saturday of most months.

The Brooklyn Museum began hosting the event in 1998, and patrons can enter the museum for free and catch live music performances, film screenings, talks by curators, DJ sets, a marketplace and the occasional group yoga session. First Saturdays typically draw around 10,000 people, according to Lauren Zelaya, the museum’s director of public programming.

Terrell Pruitt, 50, from Chelsea, attended First Saturday.

Photo by Bess Adler for Gothamist

Saturday’s event had a group yoga session.

Photo by Bess Adler for Gothamist

The museum’s halls, stairways and even the main lobby were packed all night as people made their way through the building.

Dawson and Spate attended First Saturdays for a date night.

“At the end of the day, First Saturdays is a Black event every month, but it’s a super Black event for [Black History Month],” Dawson said. “You run into everyone here.”

Miss Kam, 26, said she’d dressed for comfort, and did not plan on attending First Saturday when she chose an outfit in the morning. She often opts for vintage pieces.

Photo by Bess Adler for Gothamist

Kat Leblanc, 36, said she wanted to convey that she’s “Black and proud” with her outfit, which layered a bright red jacket over a cream-colored cardigan. She finished the outfit with a gray wool beret and small silver Telfar shopping bag.

Brooklynite Kat LeBlanc, 36, wore a custom pendant made by her friend and added a red jacket and gold earrings. She said she dresses for herself.

Photo by Bess Adler for Gothamist

Leblanc, a stylist, said she had never visited the museum as a child even though her grandmother lived across the street. Now she makes it a point to attend First Saturdays whenever she can because she loves the energy and the fact that small businesses have a platform there.

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“I’m kind of like a walking billboard,” she said. “People always compliment my outfit, and I let them know I’m a stylist, and they’re like ‘I need help!’ And we just go from there.”

“A spot to hang” for all ages

Although it becomes a party for grownups, First Saturdays is an all-ages event.

Two young partygoers at the Brooklyn Museum.

Photo by Bess Adler for Gothamist

Saint LeBeau, 28, from Brooklyn and Travis Davis, 30, from The Bronx, attended First Saturday.

Photo by Bess Adler for Gothamist

Families with children usually come around opening time in the early evening, but thousands of young people fill the museum to dance and socialize after sunset.

“We hope that it’s a place that people come, gather and catch a vibe, but we also hope it’s a place where people can build, learn and engage with one another,” said Zelaya, the museum’s public programming director.

“We’ve seen a lot of change in the neighborhood,” she added, noting that a goal for the museum was to “be welcoming to new residents but also honoring people who have deep roots in Brooklyn.”

NYC’s Commissioner of Culture, Laurie Cumbo, Bobby Digi Olisa, and their son Prince Olisa attended First Saturday. She said they usually coordinate outfits as a family unintentionally; they wear what they’re comfortable with and want to reflect positivity.

Photo by Bess Adler for Gothamist

Shaka Phillips, from Brooklyn, described herself as “40-ish years old.”

Photo by Bess Adler for Gothamist

Zelaya said that according to museum data, nearly 80% of visitors who attended First Saturdays in 2023 identified as Black, Indigenous or people of color, and 35% of them were under the age of 35.

She said the museum aimed to collaborate with local Brooklyn talent, which also attracts a younger crowd.

Crowds wait to enter the Brooklyn Museum for First Saturday.

Bess Adler for Gothamist

“For young people with a lot of energy, that’s a spot to hang,” she said.

Spencer, who was visiting from Virginia, said that although she dressed to impress a potential lover, she was also trying to be comfortable for the six-hour drive.

Sisters Sierra and Shanese Napier attended First Saturday. Sierra, left, from Washington D.C., said she likes monochrome looks, hence her red and houndstooth outfit, which she paired with African earrings. Shanese, from New Jersey, wore a pink Valentine’s Day-inspired look and opted for a Telfar purse to show support for Black-owned businesses.

Photo by Bess Adler for Gothamist

She said she supports the museum because she appreciates how its programming incorporates “Black exhibits.”

“We don’t really have a lot of those spaces we can be in,” she said. “It’s why I will make the drive to come to the Brooklyn Museum, because they are very diverse in the exhibitions that they have open.”

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