DRESS UP, Dress Down

Leather, Lace and Levis: San Francisco’s 10 wildest, sexiest costume parties

Just who do you think you are? Thanks to San Francisco’s long history of cherishing outrageous self-expression, you can dress up as just about anyone you like. There’s no surer sign of a typical day in the city by the bay than people watching in a sidewalk cafe and coming across someone strolling down the street in a strange, gorgeous and/or sexy outfit.

That’s thanks, in part, to the summer of love, where style in the city began to diverge radically from the conformity of the ’50s. Back in the ’60s, San Francisco earned a reputation for welcoming people from all walks of life and from all over the world. The city was already a melting pot, but the free love and free spirits liberated the city’s denizen to experiment with cutting edge couture. And of course it’s no fun to dress up alone. So it created parties to show off to each other original creations.

And that legacy can still be felt today in the creative costuming parties thrown regularly by locals.

Check out ten of our faves…

1. Bay to Breakers

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A longstanding tradition in the city, Bay to Breakers started as a marathon, and with the introduction of wacky costumes and groups over time, it gradually morphed into a daylong street fair with more revelry than actual running (although it’s still a serious race for some). Today it’s dominated by college students greeting the spring, often in little to no clothing.

2. Folsom Street Fair

Leather and bondage and all manner of straps and harnesses make Folsom Street Fair one of the most colorful in the world. Of course, you’re free to show up in ordinary, conformist, boring street clothes and just live vicariously. Just don’t bring the kids.

3. San Francisco Pride

You’ll find every color of the rainbow costume at San Francisco pride if you are not already dazzled by the plethora of flags themselves, bejeweling the entire city. What began as a handful of angry marchers in 1970, three years after the summer of love, blossomed into a million plus extravaganza by the turn of the century. Today, it is simply weird. And wild.

4. How Weird Street Faire

Speaking of weird… An annual celebration of the strangest excesses the city can muster, the How Weird fest is about to enter its second decade of outrageous outfits and electronic music. It’s also a fundraiser for an organization pushing world peace, so how can you go wrong with that? The more outrageous your costume the better, so definitely deck yourself out in something that’ll turn as many heads as possible.

5. Hunky Jesus Contest

Every year for Easter, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence host a Hunky Jesus contest to find the sexiest redeemer in San Francisco. If the Lamb of God ever does come back, who’s to say this won’t be his first stop?

6. Dore Alley

Christmas in July. Happy Dore! ??? #harness #dorealley #dorealley2016 #backtoblack #leatherlife

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Another of the city’s great fetish events, and the intense little sister of Folsom Street Fair, Dore Alley is where locals go to really party in a tiny alley in the South of Market Area, home to a plethora of leather bars and eager guys.

7. Carnival

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Embrace the whole world from the confines of the Mission District, with a weekend-long celebration of samba, salsa and more. Parade performers deck out in elaborate outfits celebrating international culture — and you’ll want to make sure your plumage turns more than a few heads.

8. Outside Lands

You might want to layer a bit for this one — Outside Lands is a music festival held at the end of August in Golden Gate Park, and the weather can be a bit blustery. (It can also be summery and warm, so welcome to the mystery that is San Francisco weather.) Compared to the super-sexy parades and parties that SF’s known for, Outside Lands is laid back and chill, so you can wear the concert’s comfy uniform: a band t-shirt, some jeans, maybe a knit cap–with a red bandana thrown in somewhere for a grace note. Or you can dress to impress with your most music-hipster couture.

9. Drag Gatherings with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

Every first Friday, the Sisters gather in their finest drag for a darshan — that is, an opportunity to envision the divine. And what vision could be more divine than a troupe of nuns dressed to the nines in colors and plumage? You can show up in plain street clothes, but why miss the opportunity to put together a fabulous outfit? Each event is different, and can range from games to sing-alongs to hopscotch to meditation.

10. The Summer of Love 50th Anniversary Concert

Naturally, it wouldn’t be San Francisco without some nostalgia for the free-wheeling free-loving summers of the late 60s. A massive concert for 2017 is planned for Golden Gate Park (time and date, to be determined), commemorating the spirit of the 60s that carries on into the people of SF to this day. It’s a perfect time to remember the ethos that makes San Francisco unique: truth, freedom, and the right to be different.

Dress like 1967 never went away.