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Queening in the COVID era

“Your ball is canceled.” 

These are four words no Mardi Gras queen wants to hear. Running for the title is something I had been working toward for a couple of years as a member of Les Masquees, and it finally felt like the timing was perfect. I have served on the board and held various positions over the years; I also was elected captain for our 95th anniversary ball, having been a member for almost 20 years. 

Founded in 1923, Les Masquees is one of the oldest private women’s organizations on the Coast and prides itself on legacy and tradition. Getting the phone call that there would be no ball in 2021 was heartbreaking, but I knew it was for the best. 

It feels surreal to me that 2021 (which would have been our 98th ball) will go down in history as one of the few years since our inception that we did not have any kind of celebration; others included the years of World War II, Hurricane Camille and Hurricane Katrina. One of my friends jokingly referred to me as the “Covid Queen.” Our 99th ball will be held Feb. 18, 2022, and my official reign will begin that night. 

Because all members vote on the queen, her identity is celebrated. The queen chooses six to eight maids to be in her court; these members remain a secret until the night of the ball, which is a fun surprise for the other members. The queen also chooses her king, and that is kept secret as well. After the tableau, a special family member of the queen presents her with roses, followed by a second line. Then, the real party begins with a fun band and dancing the night away. 

After choosing my court, next on my to-do list was to make plans for my dress and pick out my crown. My daughter helped me design my dress, which was created in New Orleans, and my crown came from Mobile. Due to the pandemic, some of the materials, fabrics and appliques were backordered, so we had to substitute with what was available. 

However, a few fittings later, my dream dress came to life. I also had custom accoutrements made that match my queen gown. My favorite item that I received is the designer’s original sketch, which is customary to be framed as a keepsake. My court gifted me my queen crown pin, which is a Les Masquees tradition. 

The crown pin was designed with diamonds from jewelry belonging to my mother, who passed away right before the pandemic in January 2020. It makes the pin even more special, and it is now a family heirloom. The custom queen pin came from a local Coast jeweler. I wanted to honor every city that celebrates Mardi Gras by having a little piece of their cities with me on my wonderful night. 

The ball being canceled was disappointing for everyone in the organization, and the court was upset, too. We had been meeting before the official decision was made, so we turned it into a positive by saying, “We get to party for two years!” The court has built fabulous friendships, and we have tried to get together once a month while waiting for our big night. 

There is so much to being queen! While it is a huge honor, it is similar to planning a wedding. You must coordinate hair, makeup, transportation, catering — the list is endless. I’m so excited to be making memories that last a lifetime. We’ve waited two years for this moment, and I can’t wait to finally celebrate my reign with friends and family. 

Laisses les bons temps rouler! 


  1. SMILE! This is your special night and a once in a lifetime memory. 
  2. Be nice to everyone. 
  3. King cake and champagne for ALL members 
  4. Be mysterious; wear a mask. 
  5. Don’t let your dog chew on your scepter. 
  6. Don’t sweat the small stuff. 
  7. Make sure you use the restroom before you put your “garb” on. 
  8. A glass of champagne before dancing might work wonders. 
  9. Bring a fun pair of tennis shoes to change into when your feet start hurting. 
  10. Don’t gain weight during a pandemic (too late); think about the dress. 

Dr. Gaye Winter is Les Masquees queen-elect 2022. Reach her at gaye.winter@ 

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