Looking good can be expensive.
While being a drag performer has become more lucrative, the price of shoes, wigs, jewelry, and costumes for drag queens and kings can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
These days drag is attracting a larger audience with help from the popular reality show "RuPaul's Drag Race." As Randy Barbato, co-creator of the show previously put it, "Drag queens are the new pop stars." And a pop star has to look good.
It's never really cheap, but the costs of being a drag performer can vary wildly depending on the type of performer you are or the city you're based in.
“Drag is a really interesting genre of entertainment, and the unique part of drag is there is a thousand different kinds,” said Jewels, executive director for entertainment at Hamburger Mary’s, an LGBT-friendly restaurant chain that puts on shows featuring drag performers.“There’s drag queens, drag kings, club kids, cosplay, celebrity impersonations, female impersonation. There’s a million different sub-genres. So the cost of drag is probably unique to everyone.”
Compared to smaller cities, designers, wig stylists and clothing might be more accessible in a major city like Los Angeles, although the performers there might still end up spending more.
For example, the garment district in downtown Los Angeles — which spans hundreds of stores and warehouses selling discounted clothing and accessories — is a huge resource for queens, said Moni Stat, a West Hollywood-based performer.
We spoke to drag queens and kings from Los Angeles and Moscow, Idaho, to get a sense of how performers from these two locations might spend their money differently.
Los Angeles, California
Moni Stat, a West Hollywood-based performer, has been doing drag since she was 19. Technically 19.
“I mean, if we really want to go there, I’ve been playing dress up in my mom’s outfits since I was four or five-years-old,” she said.
Moni Stat, who performs at Hamburger Mary's in West Hollywood every Sunday for their Drag Brunch show, said she does lip-syncing first and foremost “like any good old drag queen.”
“Lip-syncing is your bread and butter, so any song that I can perform I probably will and probably have performed,” she said.
Some of her favorites include “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes and “Two Weeks” by FKA Twigs.
“I love the fact that you have four to five minutes to say whatever you have to say on stage: whether it is emotion or whatever, you have five minutes to convey that on the stage. It’s the magic. It’s the magic of a performer,” she said.
She broke down the costs of one of her outfits for us:
Shoes: Christian Louboutin So Kate 120 — $725
Coat: Custom-made crepe wool coat with silk lining — $800
Cape: Valentino (vintage) — $700
Lipstick: MAC — $16
Foundation: Kryolan Cosmetics — $25
Cheek highlight: Jeffree Star Cosmetics — $32
Eyeliner: INGLOT AMC 77 — $16
Lashes: Custom-made — $15
Perfume: Chanel Sycomore — $350
Kristine Carr, a drag king based in Los Angeles, performs as Landon Cider, whom she calls "the masculine identity inside of me."
Carr will dress up as rock stars and cosplay as characters from cartoons, classic television and Disney movies, like Gaston from "Beauty and the Beast."
“Kings can reign just as fierce as queens," she said.
Her home bar is Hamburger Mary’s Long Beach, where she got her start, but she also performs around the country and internationally.
“With the platform of 'RuPaul’s Drag Race,' it’s made it for where I can be a full-time performer. I’m very fortunate that ... there are venues everywhere here in LA and in southern California that have drag shows that pay and that allow me to work,” Carr said.
Carr added that the drag king perspective is an important one that needs to be heard, because it's one that isn't often told.
“We live our life most of the time as females, and walk in the female shoes, which is a much different experience from men in general, let alone, like a gay man or anything. So our story and our perspective is from a person living in a misogynistic world as the underdog,” Carr noted.
Carr said she generally budgets about $1,000 for each of the characters she creates.
“Whether it’s a cosplay or an original character, I give myself the budget, because I know some will come under and some will come over, so they kind of balance each other out.”
Rough estimates about what she might spend on some of her items:
Shoes: About $100
Chin prosthetic: About $30
Costume: About $500 to $600
Like many stories, it started on Halloween. Aquasha DeLusty was a junior in high school and needed a costume for a party she was attending. A friend recommended dressing up in drag for the night.
It was never her intention to set out on a lifelong career in drag performance. But between watching RuPaul on VH1 and going to underage clubs in Portland – it all sort of happened.
“I was just like, ‘holy crap, you can make money doing this?'”
Today, she hosts monthly drag shows and drag bingo nights in the city of Moscow, Idaho – a small college town that sits 7 miles east of the Washington-Idaho border. And although it’s a small community in comparison to places like West Hollywood, she knows their community is “spoiled rotten.” Their audience in Moscow is often comprised of college students, and they are always full of love and support for the performers.
Beyond her community in Moscow, DeLusty is also a traveling performer. She's been invited to perform in other cities like Spokane and Ellensburg in Washington. She's even used her platform as a drag performer to play roles on stage in community theater.
She might not be able to make a living solely off performing – DeLusty is actually a full-time stylist when she isn’t dancing in heels on stage – but at the end of the day, it’s what drives her.
“It has to do with what makes your soul happy,” she said.
Over the years, DeLusty has designed and created her own outfits. Below, she breaks down her favorite outfit to date:
Dress fabric and notions: $30
Roderick Von Schlong
Like DeLusty, his story too begins on Halloween.
Five years ago, he remembers attending a drag show in Moscow and telling himself: “I need to do this.”
Since then, drag king Roderick Von Schlong has emerged – a self-described “suave nerd” who has performed in Moscow for the last four years.
In that time, Von Schlong has developed his drag persona by drawing inspiration from his days as a cosplayer. Today, like DeLusty, he too performs in monthly drag shows and at drag bingo.
In staying smart about his budget, Von Schlong creates, modifies or thrift shops items for his shows. All tips and other payments he gets through his shows go right back into his drag budget. But beyond the money, he says, it’s really all about the performances and the community.
“It’s a way to express ourselves, to express gender and play with different identities,” he said. “It gives people that confidence to express who they are.”
Below is an outline of the costs of his “Handsome Jack” outfit:
Pocket Watch: $45
“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VABEFORE YOU GO