My monthly ladies’ brunch isn’t: A goddess cult, because drum circles and organic juice are for hippies, but there’s certainly an empowerment element to it. Nor is it a pulp-fiction girl gang, because there’s no propensity for violence, although dressing like a 1950's delinquent is certainly encouraged. It’s also not the Algonquin Round Table, because while wit is prized, there are no men or cutting remarks. It’s perhaps best summed up by the ex-husband of its founder, who grumblingly referred to our roiling, rollicking, marathon Sundays as “fucking ladies’ brunch.” It’s a mess, it’s a menace to public health, and it’s been a central part of our lives for the past six years.
Our brunch day starts with an outfit. You don’t have to wear an outfit by any means, but generally the sartorial choices are part of the fun. So much so that a friend’s co-worker once looked at a group picture and asked, “Do you always dress like you’re in the circus?” Which is just foolish. We dress like we’re going to the Easter Parade with vintage hats, dresses, and gloves are popular. So much so, that I used to refer to our march from the hostess station to our table as “the parade,” since it drew stares from less adventurous diners.
“Why are you so dressed up?” one once asked me.
“Why are you not?” I tossed off. This is not to say that there’s a dress code or a uniform. If anything, I’ve seen women come into their own, style-wise, at ladies’ brunch, because it allows them to explore their own ideas of how they want to present themselves. Some are mod fabulous—one woman has developed a look I lovingly describe as “Scorsese mob wife”—some are fifties traditionalists, others are goth glam. Accessory-wise it’s creative anarchy, with silk flowers, Halloween décor, and Christmas ornaments all pressed into year-round service as headwear. You just have to be comfortable enough in the fabric to eat, drink, and live with the inevitable mussing that will come along with eating, drinking, and group hugs. You may also come home from brunch in the dark, so you also need to think long-term.
Yes, food matters, I suppose—there are complaints, and we’ve switched venues when the food got inedible—but it’s more about what would refer to as “dining.” That is, the actual process of getting dressed, going out, and talking over a table with your fellows, especially if those fellows are women. Founded out of a Riot Grrl sense of providing a safe space for women to be themselves, ladies’ brunch remains a girls’ club during business hours. When we get up from the table, husbands, boyfriends, and friends are welcome to join, but between “the parade” and any post-brunch revelry it remains a female space. Not because we’re specifically smashing the patriarchy over eggs, just because it’s ours and it belongs to us and we belong to each other in these moments. (Of note: This policy was breached only once, by one husband on his birthday for a piece of cake and he hated it.)
Lest you think this means a Lilith Fair level of synchronous ovulation and pure love, let me correct you. For our founder, the intrepid Emma, it can be more like organizing one of those epic Game of Thrones battles one Sunday a month with a call to unify armies flying under the sigils of House Too Busy, House Vegan, House Hung Over, and House It’s My Birthday, Can We Have a Party? When I asked her once why she doesn’t burn it all to the ground in frustration, she said, “It helps me cure cancer.” And she’s not kidding—as a full time oncology nurse, her ladies’ brunch chaos is a citadel in a very tough world. It is for all of us, which is why a lawyer, a tattoo artist, an editor, a DJ, a curator, a copywriter and dozens of others walked into a bar.
Brunch is a cultural phenomenon currently, and, of course, with that comes endless think pieces from grouches who hate it—and I get that. Cheap champagne can bring out the worst in “woo girls” and “bros” and others who are probably not the best dining companions to begin with, but I think they’re just doing it wrong. Our brunch brings the best in me. I keep a picture of us in my wallet. In it, I’m practically doubled over laughing, sporting a beehive and a bright yellow dress. In those moments, I hug, I tip lavishly, and I’m a member of a very special club. One that has custom pins we’ve modified to say “ladies’ fuckin’ brunch,” so it’s a rallying cry and not a curse. So yes, maybe it is a bit of a gang, a cult, and a social circle. But it’s also a family, a movement, and the best way to spend a Sunday.