My first exposure to drag queens was having my birthday party at Lucky Chang's in New York City. It was the '90s, and I found them oh so fascinating.
Lucky Chang's was immortalized in an episode of "Sex in the City," for those of you who are younger than 25. Basically, the theme is … drag. The waitstaff are drag queens. And believe me when I tell you they spend hours getting ready and it shows. They're gorgeous.
OK, OK — perhaps a little Dolly Parton-ish, but beautiful in a very coiffed and made-up sort of way. They're also campy. And campy is fun. The waitstaff would stop working periodically — perhaps more than they should (meals were often late) — and break into song and dance. Lip-synching of course. It's not about being a good singer. It's about the look and the moves.
What makes drag queens a trend today is that they're bacccckkkkk? As Jack Nicholson screamed in "The Shining."
Over the Top Inspiration
And many a trend has come from drag clubs. Especially now. Arched eyebrows like Joan Crawford. Glitter on the eyelids and cheeks. Big hair is even back.
It all reminds me of a trip I made to Brazil when I had a "real job." We went to see a cabaret show one night. I smiled and clapped and did not realize until we left the show that all those women were … men.
Man, they do some good surgery in Brazil. And they put a lot of time into looking good.
"Drag queens work at night because it takes them eight hours to get ready," said club-hopper Mark Royce. "They make my wife seem really time-efficient."
But drag queens, aside from being bold in their outrageous choices, have really set an example for the masses. My mother worked for Harper's Bazaar when we were growing up in Manhattan. She loved fashion, and therefore, we were all reading Bazaar by the time we were 6 years old. I remember saying to her: "These looks are ridiculous. Who would wear this?" (Naturally, I was wearing my school uniform skirt and a LaCoste shirt and penny loafers with socks.) Her response was so dead on:
"Magazine shoots and fashion shows go for the absurd. They exaggerate on purpose. The point is not to copy verbatim their look, but to be inspired by the exaggeration," she told me.
My mom then went on to show me. For example, a fur coat with a collar that practically swallows the model's head can give ideas — like wearing a slightly larger collar on your coat this year. The images were inspirational. And so are drag queens.
Where do you think Madonna got her song and accompanying dance for "Vogue"? From drag queens. They were vogue-ing the night away long before her hit song. And why does MAC cosmetics choose drag queens as their spokes … women? Because they're fun. They're over the top. They expand your imagination. You think to yourself: "Hmm. If she/he's wearing lip liner an inch outside her lips, and smokey eye shadow that's practically black, maybe I can do a modified version of that."
I had the privilege of attending one of Jackie Beat's shows a little while ago. Who's Jackie Beat? Drag queen extraordinaire — that's who. She's been entertaining audiences all over the United States and Europe for more than 10 years with her sarcastic, biting humor and parodies of songs that are fun and truly inspired.
Sure, she mimics Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige and more famous female artists. Of course Madonna and Cher are included. They're all bolder than bold, and that's what Jackie Beat is about.
Her one-woman show, "Jackie Beat Is a Whole Lotta Love," ran to rave reviews in New York City. In fact, each year, she puts on a holiday show in the Big Apple. Between you and me, she puts the Rockettes to shame.
Los Angeles-based, I got to see her at Here, a club on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Her stand-up comedy has been featured on Comedy Central, VH-1 and MTV. Beat has written for the CW series "Hype!" and for the Sci-Fi channel on several shows. She and I even share a credit in common. We're top cops for UsWeekly's Fashion Police.
Drag Goes Mainstream
Makeup trends, fashion trends, dancing trends. You may not know it, but many of them originate in the wee hours of the morning in, yes, drag clubs. One of the newest and most gratuitous trends of them all, having a personal umbrella holder, has been hot with drag queens for some time now.
Sean "Diddy" Combs started it all with his ingenious wingman, Fonzworth. A couple years later, this has apparently ceased to be ludicrous and become a statement of being in the "in" crowd. At this year's Fashion Week tents, a drag queen exited a black Suburban with a PUH (personal umbrella holder) by her side. Anna Wintour did the same. Clearly, if Wintour is doing it, this is a real fashion statement. She is, after all, the queen bee of fashionistas the world over.
Speaking of the world over, one of Pakistan's biggest stars is in drag. Begum Nawazish Ali is the host of Pakistan's popular talk show "Late Night Show with Begum Nawazish Ali."
She is a stylish, middle-age, socialite widow of an army colonel, of all things. Her monologues are laced with sexual innuendo and probing questions about her guests' personal lives. Visitors have included Pakistan's urban elite, film and television stars, and even politicians. She's managed to break many taboos in conservative Pakistan through her "character." But a drag queen by any other name … is still a drag queen. And countries like Pakistan are embracing the trend. Begum Nawazish is, indeed, a man.
You know drag has become mainstream when it's a part of Fashion Week. Take the Heatherette — club kids Richie Rich & Traver Rains are the men behind the fun party label — kickoff fashion show in 2005 in New York City.
Drag queens ruled the runway. Models are routinely primped within a trace of their lives for fashion shows, so one can only imagine how much primping it takes when drag queens are the models.
At least we have them to give us ideas. And that's something Jackie Beat gives us in spades — whether in her dressing room or on the stage. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.