Though it’s hard to imagine now, krewes of women have not always paraded through the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. When the Divine Protectors of Endangered Pleasures, or DIVAs, paraded out of their boozy breakfast at Arnaud’s, marching to the jazzy ensemble of The Riverside Ramblers in 2002, they became one of the first all-female marching krewes. And while the group proudly declares themselves the original beaded bustier group, they recognize that other krewes do, too.
The DIVAs formed from a Saturday morning walking club in Covington. The beaded bustier concept was inspired by artist Kim Marshall’s exhibit at the St. Tammany Art Association in 2001, which featured her unique take on the accouterments of working women, like a hand-beaded briefcase the group couldn’t stop talking about as they strolled through downtown Covington.
The more they talked, the more inspiration they found—from art, literature and one another. Soon, the group had a name: The Divine Protectors of Endangered Pleasures, largely inspired by Barbara Holland’s book Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences.
“We want to showcase how supportive women can be of each other,” krewe member Dianne Madden explains. “The idea of the beading circle is our main theme. Women connecting and working together.”
Though most of the eight founders, known formally as Divine Directors, live in and around Covington or New Orleans, graphic artist Dianne Madden represents Baton Rouge for the krewe. Each Divine Director is responsible for their own group of approximately 10 women. An exclusive invitation to the DIVAs is only good for one year at a time. That helps them include as many women as possible, Madden says.
After the invitations are sent, each director picks a theme for their group. Much like their origin story, the DIVAs draw inspiration from art, literature and culture. One group may do birds, while another opts for snowballs. This year, Madden’s group will pay homage to fabulous female musicians.
Then, it’s time to start beading those bustiers. A cardinal rule of DIVA Day is that no bustier can be worn more than once. And, of course, the DIVAs don’t stop at the bustiers. They complete their looks with wigs, makeup and sometimes even elaborate headpieces.
“You can really get wrapped up in getting dressed up and going all out with the outfit and makeup,” Madden says, noting that following DIVA Day, the krewe’s ornate bustiers go on display at The Southern Hotel Museum in Covington. “But seeing the smiles when you hand someone a bead or a trinket, that joy that is out on the street is what’s so much fun.”