East Village, 1984: After a late-night performance at the Pyramid Club, a drunken Lady Bunny wandered into Tompkins Square Park and staged an impromptu drag show. Little did she anticipate that the romp would become the annual drag festival Wigstock, a full-fledged queer bacchanal that lasted up until 2005. Moving from Lady Bunny and friends’ original hangout spot to Union Square to, finally, the West Side Highway, the festival became increasingly popular, with artists like Stephen Tashjian, known as Tabboo!, employed to create costumes and backdrops for the event. Free to the public, Wigstock drew crowds from throughout the city and nation, bringing genderqueer style to the streets of Manhattan.
“I felt it was a little punk rock,” says musician and photographer David Yarritu, whose Polaroids capture key figures from Wigstock throughout the years, including Tabboo!, Lady Bunny, and John Kelly dressed as Joni Mitchell. “There was something subversive about doing this in a place where women with babies in strollers could happen upon it … you’re bringing something that had always been in the dark at night out into the light of day and sharing it with the public.”
About eight months ago, Jacob Robichaux (an art consultant and friend of Yarritu’s) saw the box of ‘80s Polaroids sitting in the photographer’s home and helped him realize they were something special.
“This is a document of a place and a time, a community that has value,” he says. “So now, they’re out of the closet.” Ahead of Pride weekend, click through to revisit the history of Wigstock.