The History Of Drag Culture

drag makeup
drag makeup
Jamey Heron-Waterhouse

When you hear the term ‘drag’, it is likely that images of bright colours, big wigs, and unparalleled skill in makeup artistry spring to mind. However, while this may be true for those in the industry, drag has also impacted everyday makeup wearers (yes, even you ‘no makeup, makeup look’ lovers). Jamey tells us more.

The concept of drag can be traced back to the late 16th and early 17th centuries, as women were not allowed to perform on stage, thus, male actors had to dress like women to perform female roles. The term ‘drag’ itself is even thought to have originated from the dresses of the male actors ‘dragging’ along the floor.

the influence of drag on the makeup scene is, in my opinion, unparalleled

It is also vital to mention the role that queer people of colour played in the popularisation of drag; the Hamilton Lodge club for upper class people of colour held a charity ball called the Annual Odd Fellows Ball in 1869 (though it became more known in the 1920s) in which both men and women would get in drag and display their looks.

An award was also given to male participants for the “most perfect feminine body displayed by an impersonator.“  Though the ball was an organisation run by people of colour, many white people attended, introducing and expanding this form of expression to new people and joining communities together through the art.

In 1927, drag started to become heavily associated with the LGBTQ+ community as seen in A.J. Rosanoff’s 1927 Manual of Psychiatry  where he defined drag as “an outfit of female dress worn by a homosexual”.

The influence of drag on the makeup scene is, in my opinion, unparalleled, as popular techniques like baking (the method of putting heavy amounts of translucent powder on your face and letting it sit for a few minutes to achieve a more matte skin texture) and contouring originated from drag queens as they used these techniques to make their faces look more feminine. Such techniques then found themselves in the hands of celebrities and the rest is makeup history.

Additionally, actress Kat Graham in a video interview on Vogue’s YouTube channel claimed that she learnt about makeup from drag queens: “The only people I knew that I trusted with my makeup were drag queens, because before ‘Vampire Diaries’ I was releasing music and the only people who would let me in to perform were drag queens”

the incorporation of drag into mainstream beauty practises shows its cultural significance

It is impossible to discuss drag without mentioning the influence of RuPaul and the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009-). This show, in my opinion, has both allowed drag queens to become famous on a global scale and has helped appreciation for the art of drag to grow. The show also demonstrates the effort it takes as the queens on the show compete in competitions pertaining to the different aspects of drag – costume, makeup and performance.

Overall, it is clear that drag has made a distinct impression on the makeup industry, influencing the ways people express themselves creatively through makeup. The incorporation of drag into mainstream beauty practises shows its cultural significance throughout history and its relevance to the beauty industry today.

Jamey Heron-Waterhouse

Featured image courtesy of  Artem Gavrysh via Unsplash Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

In-article images courtesy of @shes_champagne via No changes were made to these images.

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