Black Tie Beach

Shot by: Matt Adams, Jason Eppink, Keith Haskel, Erik Martin, Chloe Smolkin, Charlie Todd
Photography: Brian Fountain, Ari Scott, Katie Sokoler (full flickr sets for each photographer at the bottom of this post.)

For our latest mission we had several hundred agents spend a day at Coney Island / Brighton Beach wearing black tie attire. We covered a mile-long stretch of beach with a diverse group of people of all ages (from babies to sixty-somethings) laying out, playing games, and swimming in the ocean, all in formal wear. Agents were instructed to find cheap tuxedos and ball gowns at thrift stores for the occasion.

pre-mission briefing
About a month before the mission, we sent out a notice to our New York Mailing List informing agents that for our next mission they would need to procure black tie attire that they didn’t mind ruining. We wanted to give folks a few weeks to check out some thrift stores or rummage through their grandparents’ closets.

The crowd of agents
We met at Seaside Park, which was conveniently located just across the street from the boardwalk, close to the border of Coney Island and Brighton Beach. It’s tough to say exactly how many agents participated, (if anyone wants to count heads in the photo above, go for it!) but we were thrilled with the turnout. Everyone managed to find awesome outfits, and most spent only a few bucks. The premise of the mission was to spend a day at the beach with absolutely everything being normal apart from our fancy dress. We also encouraged agents to bring normal beach accessories, to make the day more fun.

Scuba gear!
After we got organized, it was time to head over to the beach. I instructed the agents to spread out and approach the beach from different directions and over a period of time, so that we didn’t look like we were all coming from the same place. Also, Coney Island is infamously crowded, and we didn’t want to make the crowding any worse by showing up to the same spot. We ended up covering a pretty huge area, probably about a mile of beach.

Agents approaching the boardwalk

Agents begin appearing all over the beach

Taking a walk

Agent Diaz and her daughter

New friends
We had a really great range of ages participate. There were several toddlers and even some infants as well as folks in their sixties and just about every age in between.

Brighton Beach has a huge Russian population and a pretty heavy percentage of the folks who encountered us were of Russian descent.

A few minutes into the mission, I went on a walk by myself to survey the scene. Folks on the beach were just starting to notice that something was up, and an older woman in a bikini stopped me.

Woman: What is this?

Me: Excuse me?

Woman: Where are you coming from? We just saw someone else in a tuxedo as well.

Me: Oh, I’m just going on a walk. I just came here with my girlfriend. She’s back that way.

At this point a crowd of people started forming, listening to our conversation and laughing.

Woman: Are you going to swim?

Me: I’m not sure. Is the water cold?

Several others: No! It’s warm!

Woman: The other guy in the tuxedo was swimming!

Me: In his clothes?

Woman: Yes, you have to do it now too!

At this point the whole group started chanting “go! go! go!” and clapping their hands, pressuring me to jump in the water. I hadn’t planned on going in quite so early, but it looked like I had no choice. I handed my glasses to the woman I’d been chatting with, and a man stopped me to give me a Catholic Sign of the Cross before I went running in. Here’s a video of the encounter, captured by Agent Eppink:

It was a really wonderful moment. Everyone on the beach was so happy and supportive. An older Russian man quickly waded out to me with an iPhone 4 in his hands, determined to snap a closeup photo. After he was done he asked for my email address so he could send it to me, which I thought was really sweet. I watched him convert his keyboard from Russian to English to get my address, and then he emailed it to me right then and there. Nice guy!

the iPhone photo
Then a second man approached me in the water to take a photo with his camera. He had such a happy look on his face; I asked him if I could interview him with my waterproof flip camera. You can see the interview at the end of the main video up top. He was awesome.

More agents start swimming

All black tux and a boogie board
Our agents came up with a wonderful variety of activities to do during their day at the beach.

Chicken fights



Flying a kite



Metal detecting


Mud fights

Getting buried in the sand

Belly flops
It was fun to watch all the interactions between our participants and the other folks at the beach. When asked why they were dressed up, agents mostly responded that they were doing it “for fun” or that they “just like dressing up for the beach.” Of course, no one would admit to knowing the other dressed up folks. These responses frustrated some inquisitive locals, but most seemed to get the joke just fine.

Bizarrely, one man proposed marriage to one of the agents!

By the end of the day, agents and locals could be seen playing games together.

Black Tie vs. Skins
The police drove by a few times, doing their normal rounds. One cop reportedly said that he must have “missed the memo.” A police helicopter flew overhead as well. This was probably a routine occurrence, but a few agents reported the chopper lingering and an officer on board smiling and taking photos of them in the water.

Late in the day, a group of agents decided to all run into the water together.

There was no official end to the mission. Folks stayed as long as they liked. Some decided to go the amusement park.

All in all it was a great day at the beach for everyone involved!

Members of the IE video and photo crew pose for a shot post-mission
Mission Accomplished


Agent Fountain’s set (89 photos)
Agent Scott’s set (165 photos)
Agent Sokoler’s set (146 photos)

Read the agent reports from hundreds of participants in the comments here.