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BY LIV PHILLIPS
BY LIV PHILLIPS
The late 1800s to mid 20th century was a black and white world. It was wet and dry, night and day, boys were boys and girls were girls. No one defined sexuality nor contemplated it and hell-fearing, vanilla Americans were proud to live that simple life. Going against the grain was taboo, so instead of shaking the cosmos, a revolution began underground. From there emerged a secret world of glitz and glam that celebrated the beauty of expression and individuality; one equally as illegal as it was fabulous - drag.
But as soon as it began, many tried to squander it. The Masquerade Laws, established in 1845 in New York, had a massive impact on the drag community, and their inability to publicly express themselves through fashion was debilitating. So, in the shadows of the status quo, top-secret and ultra-sexy clubs coined "drag balls" were started, where men and women alike gathered for pageants that celebrated their unique sense of self. The events consisted of men dressing up like women to showcase their femininity and win money, thus creating modern-day drag. There was champagne popping, glitter flying, and stilettos dancing, but the New York nightlife scene described the shows to be "morally the lowest in the city," and it remained illegal to crossdress in public. But, just like prohibition, no one likes to do as they're told.
The Pansy Craze of the 1930s was a bright historical moment for the drag community kickstarting LGBTQ+ nightlife. Drag queens started to build a following, and fame was in their fortune as they ventured from New York to Los Angeles. Clubs with signs reading “girls will be boys” lingered in the area where young women dressed in their best tuxedos for a night to screw gender norms. Despite the flocking tourists and newfound queer community that the craze generated, the art remained illegal and oppressed nationwide.
Back in Manhattan, the birthplace of the art, drag started to work itself into mainstream media and the fashion-beauty industry. When RuPaul’s Drag Race aired, drag queens found worldwide fame, and their art was widely adored. Winners of the competition gained celebrity status almost as fast as Kylie’s new baby and appeared in ad campaigns, runway shows, and magazines. RuPaul’s VH1 series has grown to bring in $12 billion in revenue per year and give drag queens a massive platform to expand their audience. Social media started a new era of fashion that caused the public to fall in love with latex and prints galore, and men who were once scared of the consequences of expression were finally able to get their hands on drag couture.
Fashion and drag are infinitely intertwined with their mutual love of expression and creativity. The drag style strays away from clean lines and chic neutrals to give us a brighter, bolder, and more expressive look. Coming from extreme oppression, the extravagant attire and outrageous makeup reflect drag queen's stories and point towards a bright future for avant-garde couture sales in fashion. High fashion brands including Prada, Moschino, and Christian Cowan took inspiration from gender freedom and the drag world to create haute couture for the girls, gays, and theys. The exclusive and pricey name that the clothing carried further expanded the drag industry into society's elite, and thus marked the birth of a new market, one that ditched gender labels for designer.
Beyond integration into the fashion industry, drag has become a business in itself. RuPaul created a multi-million dollar industry with his show, with the prize fund standing at a whopping $100,000 for winning the race. He created DragCon, a convention where drag queens can meet fans and sell merchandise from the show's success. The premiere event brought $9 million in sales revenue plus the $40 entrance fee paid by 40,000 fans. While the money drag queens made from appearances were initially slim to none, now their bank accounts are growing almost as quickly as their fame. Drag queens can get paid anywhere from $50-$30,000 per event, reflecting just how big the industry has become.
It's easy to look towards drag to admire the glittery show and extravagant style, but the history of the art makes it so spectacular. Drag queens still suffer from worldwide prejudices just because of how they express themselves but slay away as they grow their multi-million dollar industry. With social media playing a vital role in our modern world, marginalized groups are given the opportunity to spotlight the beauty of being themselves. From oppressed beginnings, drag queens have built the fanbase of a lifetime and worked their way into mainstream society, this time to stay and continue celebrating the artistic expression of fashion.