The Rise of Drag and How Main Stream Media Has Shaped Drag Queen Costumes

Posted by Charismatico on 7th Dec 2020

The Rise of Drag and How Main Stream Media Has Shaped Drag Queen Costumes

For many years, drag queens and its enthusiastic fanbase have been hiding a little secret. One that RuPaul, arguably the most celebrated drag monarch of the 21st century, has been trying to tell us for a long time. “Identity is a hoax, people!” These days, most people are in on the punchline: The drag world has established its reputation by poking fun at gender norms.

Yet the multimillion-dollar industry is nothing to scoff at. What started in the late 1800s as pantomimes cross-dressing on stage – theatricals and plays where male actors played vixens and dames – has transformed into a booming business, and a highly influential social movement at that. As a result, today people are searching for places like to browse and create custom designs and unique new drag costumes designed and tailor made for their own individual physique and style.

From drag-focused events like DragCon to fully-booked cruise liner tours like Celebrity Equinox, drag is witnessing a historic spike in several different markets. The industry has received some of the biggest support from beauty and fashion companies – from small shops such as Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics to well-known brands such as Marc Jacobs (which, by the way, are open to hiring drag spokespeople in hopes of garnering similar reactions to what MAC received during its epic VivaGlam campaigns back in the 90s).

And we all have mainstream media to thank for it. Sofonda Cox, a Filipino-born, Toronto based drag queen, says Rupaul’s influence on drag propelled the entire industry on the spotlights.

“Everything changed when RuPaul came along,” Cox says. “She was like the Walt Disney of drag queens.” Sofonda’s been performing on Canadian stages for nearly two decades and has seen mainstream media give drag the love it truly deserves. “RuPaul made glam accessible, and more glamorous than what you see going on throughout the red carpet and royalty – we queens are the anti-Meghan Markle, darling!”

According to Cox, not only did RuPaul change the game – he changed the crowd as well.

“When I started doing drag 18 years ago, my audience was mainly white gay men but today, because of Drag Race – [whether] I’m in an LGBTQ venue or not – my crowd is filled with 50-per-cent straight women and 50[-per-cent] queer people … and they are from all walks of life,” Cox says.

“Teenage girls now come up to me after seeing a show and speak in drag language. They know our lingo!” he added.

For Diego Montoya, a Peruvian born-and-raised visual artist, RuPaul’s show literally changed his life, from waiting tables in Murray Hill to owning his own full-time design studio and operating with a team of six members. It all started when season nine winner Sasha Velour wore one of his custom-made creations during the show's season 10 finale, in which Velour passed her crown and sceptre newly anointed queen, Aquaria. The look, an airbrushed catsuit that’s paired with a silicone breast prosthesis and a plethora of embellishments — was inspired by the story of Lilith — "as performed by an alien but making it fashion," Montoya recalls.

Then there's Dallas Coulter, a designer based in San Francisco who started designing clothes back in the ’90s where she ‘couldn’t get fun clothes and was a club kid at that’. Today, she’s one of the most sought after designers and is working with high-profile queens with hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers.

"I wouldn't be where I am today without the show and the queens who've been on it, so it's definitely a direct correlation for me," Coulter says. It's a sentiment the queens themselves reciprocate. "Many of the dolls regularly joke like, 'It's Dallas Coulter Presents All-Stars 2 and 3' because there were so many Dallas Coulter looks," she added.

The designers know that their business is booming because of visibility, but that's not what Coulter is doing it for.

"As great as it is to see my work on TV, it's way more important to me to make sure the queens are happy, deadlines are met and the girls feel and look great so they can put on the best show they can. When I'm working I'm not thinking, 'Oh I can’t wait to see this on TV or online,' it's more of a focus on making it happen to begin with. Seeing it on TV is just an added perk." she says.

It’s not only the TV show that influenced drag outfits to what they are now. Social media has also played a role in the monumental rise of drag, with videos being the preferred medium of viewers and audiences. RuPaul’s Drag Race has truly embraced the social media culture and expanded its reach beyond televisions and into mobile devices.

Not only are entertainment publishers uploading content and snippets from the show, but the participants also upload interesting content that fans and audiences can indulge in. From makeup tutorials to original spin-offs like the Trixie and Katya Show, Drag Race has spawned a plethora of content, and it looks like it isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Fans even create their own artwork and merchandise which has gained huge followings and generated interest from the competitors themselves.

With the content being highly captivating for the audiences, it’s helped to raise a platform for individuals who want to discuss the influence of drag on their own ideas of gender and identity – key topics that are currently under discussion in regular society.