Not Afraid to Go There: Drag Queen Fashion

Exploring inspiration behind a queen's iconic looks

Written by Lauren James, Style Coordination by Cat Harris

Drag shows have existed in many forms for hundreds of years, but the popularity of shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race has helped catapult the art of drag further into the public eye. The local drag scene is alive and well; finding a venue to watch a show has never been easier. Tucked in the crowded streets of the Vista lies Capital Club, Columbia’s oldest private gay bar and the gateway to a world of glitter, feathers and sequins that will enchant even the dullest of audiences. The stage is low and the seating is intimate, but the place is buzzing with energy as rainbow strobe lights illuminate the performers. But what does it mean, exactly, to be dressed in drag? I sat down with drag queen, Elena Devour, before her show to get her perspectives on what makes drag fashion different, as well as her favorite parts about expressing herself through drag. Devour, in her vibrant pink makeup and leopard catsuit, shared her inspiration in the dressing room. “Drag queens are influenced by the VMAs. For example Doja Cat’s fringe outfit, and vice versa. Drag queens influence pop culture, I think because we are so confident. We’re not afraid to go there.” And where is “there?” It's a six-foot-wide pair of wings adorned in crystals, feathers and zebra print, which Devour describes as her favorite piece to wear. “It makes you feel like a million bucks,” Devour said.

But not all drag queens choose to go that route. Just like street fashion, there are many unique styles of drag that are all eye-catching and glamorous. Houston Hangover, another queen performing at the show, sported a black coat, gold chains and a statement belt. Paired with her stunning blue eye makeup, the look was a contrast to Devour's bright colors. Both queens manage to show their personalities through fashion. In order to get some more insight into what goes into choosing an outfit, I had a conversation with Houston. 

How did you get your start in drag?

Houston: I’m from a small town, where there were only like two gay people, and I was the only one who was very open and out about it. So, I ended up moving to Asheville when I was 16 and I snuck into a gay bar. I was like ‘Oh my god, this is going to be the best day of my life.’ I went in and I see this 6-foot-1, tall woman. And I was like ‘What the hell!’ So I walked up, and it was a drag queen. We ended up becoming really good friends, and she said, ‘this is how I display art to the community.' I just thought that was so cool. So, I kind of took that and adapted on it. I let it sit for a couple months and I was like ‘Ok. This is something I want to do; this is how I want to portray myself.’

What are you trying to portray when you choose a drag look?

Houston: I’m very New York streetwalker. I’d say I’m more inspired by seeing things in general. Like, if I see something in a mall, I always find myself rearranging it how I would want it to look. This is a men’s overcoat, and I was like ‘you know what, it’s about to be a dress today.’ I add thirty thousand necklaces and belts. 

What is your favorite look you’ve ever put together?

Houston: I did an Alice in Wonderland look one time, that was really cool. I had a tiger print full-body leotard, and then a belt and a jacket. I don’t know, it’s hard to put a label on it because I feel like I try to look the same every time, if that makes sense. Very ‘she was the pretty girl in high school, then she turned alternative, now she just doesn’t care.’

With your makeup, do you try and go for the same vibe?

Houston: My makeup always changes. This is what you get this week, last week was kind of the same but I had a bigger under-eye. I try to change it every two weeks to be dimensional with it, but I always keep the same base. I wear the same lash brand, I do the same crease and I do the same liner. Makeup was definitely the hardest to learn.

What would you say makes drag fashion “drag fashion,” if it can even be put into one umbrella term?

Houston: I would say the word ‘fashion’ itself encompasses so many different aspects. Drag fashion, the only thing it’s really similar to would be like pageantry or Vegas showgirls.  But, it just kind of depends on your aesthetic. What you do in drag and what you want people to see. I know Nicole Roberts, who’s a performer here, she does very big back feather pieces and sparkles and glitter, but I do more of a New York club look, more underground.

What advice would you have for people trying to incorporate more out-of-the-box looks into their style?

Houston: Just go for it. My biggest thing with it, like I used to wear khaki pants and a polo every day. So my biggest thing was just telling myself ‘do it.’ And then once I did that, I started picking up stuff from Goodwill, putting things together and just finding what works for me.