You don’t need a designer gown to be considered “Best Expressed” at Art Warehouse’s upcoming Fashion Art Ball in Delray Beach May 8, just in time for Mental Health Awareness Month.

The ball is a collaboration between Arts Warehouse, county initiative BeWellPBC, and creative director Deon C. Jefferson, who says the idea is partially inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual themed Met Gala.

“I don’t have any background in the health field whatsoever,” said Jefferson, who works in fashion and design by day, “But I knew I wanted to make a difference somehow.”

Jefferson teamed up with local organizations like Psyche Signature, an apparel brand that promotes mental health awareness, to center the event around conversations that co-founder Anthony Gonzalez says need to be happening more often.

“There’s a unique vulnerability there,” Gonzalez said. “This is a wonderful expression for people of all walks of life, and particularly within the queer community, to be open and more understanding.”

While mental health is a community issue, Jefferson said the belle of the ball will be the person who stands out the most. Attendees are encouraged to come dressed in fashion that best highlights their individuality. The winner with the “Best Expressed Outfit” will walk away with a free photoshoot.

“I’m looking to be surprised,” said Jefferson, who will judge the competition with Arts Warehouse creative team Grace Gdaniec and Lui Acosta, “I’m looking for people to be their full, authentic selves.”

Arts Warehouse, BeWellPBC, and Jefferson are bringing together a mix of local artists and organizations to make the ball a true community event. Palm Beach County drag favorite Tyresha Jones will perform, and Monarch Health Group will provide HIV testing. Other organizations, like Compass Community Center, Overeaters Anonymous, and Bridges of Lake Worth will also be available to talk about the services that they provide to the community.

Jones was tasked with bringing a performance that both shows her authentic self and draws awareness to mental health. She said she has been preparing her act for months, and is bringing a drag performance to the fashion ball because it’s “one of the key elements of expression for the LGBT community itself. Drag helped me be able to express my true self.”

As for COVID safety, Jefferson said the event will be socially distant and masks will be enforced. Attendees are required to pre-register and will be temperature checked on entry. While he knows some may shy away from wearing extravagant costumes or strutting their stuff, Jefferson said that they shouldn’t let the fear stop them from joining in on the festivities.

“It’s really about having fun, it’s not a ‘stuffy’ event,” Jefferson said. “We encourage individuality and want people to be as comfortable as possible. Whatever you feel like putting on, come out and show some support.”

Out of over 108 artists who submitted artwork in the ball’s theme of Mental Health Awareness, 27 were chosen to have their work — paintings, drawing, sculptures, video installations, even jewelry — on display at Arts Warehouse for the entire month of May.

The ball starts at 6 p.m. on May 8. Attendees can pre-register on for free.