“You’re born naked and the rest is drag.”
RuPaul’s philosophy about the role of clothes applies to both sides of his life. Whether he’s sporting a jacket and slacks around Los Angeles or a glamorous va-va-voom gown on stage, RuPaul is always aware of the underlying message.
“Most people dress and use fashion to say, ‘Don’t pay attention to me. I want to blend in.’ But even that is communication,” RuPaul told The Daily Beast. “Fashion is a projection of your own self-love and love of color and texture and proportion. I don’t differentiate what I do on stage from what I do off stage. It’s all drag to me.”
It may take months to plan his perfect stage vision, but at home RuPaul knows exactly what he’s going to wear when he wants to wear it. That’s because he plans ahead with “dress rehearsals,” putting together pieces from his extensive wardrobe and photographing the looks so he knows what works and what doesn’t. His secret: “classic silhouettes with a twist.” On this day, for example, RuPaul is in New York City doing telephone interviews dressed in a St. James striped sailor shirt with a Dior peacoat, red jeans and Gucci loafers. Who cares that we can’t see him? He looks good and that’s all we need to know.
“When you live long enough on this planet, you understand what your body can pull off and what works best for your body,” RuPaul said. “I have a lot of clothes and have built a substantial wardrobe. I have a lot of classic pieces and I’ll just throw in something a little unexpected.”
That sensibility is ever present on his hit Logo show, RuPaul’s Drag Race—a reality competition about transformation that is as hilarious as it is moving and is so successful that it has two spinoffs, Untucked and RuPaul’s Drag U.
Drag Race’s fifth season premieres Monday with an “All-Stars” extravaganza featuring a dozen of the fans' favorite contestants competing again for the title of “Next Drag Superstar.” It also has a new theme song, “Responsitrannity,” which was inspired by RuPaul’s first season fight with Tammie Brown in which the show’s host threw down: “You forgot that you’re amazing! If you take on someone else’s negativity, it’s because, goddamn it, you forgot it! It’s not my responsibility to make you feel good all the time!”
That may be true, but RuPaul agreed to get us in the mood for the new season by picking his favorite outfits for each of the queens and discussing what makes their aesthetic unique.
“Clearly drag queens use fashion to say, ‘Do look at me and even if you don’t want to look at me, you’re going to get something from this,’” RuPaul said. “Drag queens usually use their clothes, their appearance, and their proportions to give a message. And the message in drag—and it has always been the same—is don’t take life too seriously.”
Nina Flowers (Season 1)
I love that pantsuit. It’s a 70s psychedelic swirl. She’s amazing. She will do a classic silhouette, like that gorgeous pantsuit with the white corset, but she’ll do a Mohawk or show her tattoos. She will do a classic silhouette but have an unexpected element to it that makes it really modern and edgy. She’s the first really edgy queen we had on the show. And she represented that new faction—the world of tattoos and punk rock to a classic drag queen.
Shannel (Season 1)
I love that outfit—the Medusa with the snakes. I’m surprised they didn’t blur out her whole outfit. When she did that lip synch of “The Greatest Love of All,” it’s classic television. [Shannel’s Medusa headdress tumbled off halfway through the song and she recovered by ripping off her latex breasts.]
She is the consummate showgirl. She loves a peplum and big shoulders and jewelry. She’ll have jewels hanging from every part of an outfit or beads. She’s that girl. And she’s got a gorgeous body so she likes to show that. She’s more the traditional, classic Las Vegas drag queen.
Tammie Brown (Season 1)
The thing about her is that because she loves vintage and the 30s and the whole film-star storyline, she’ll go for something that Eleanor Parker wore in film noir. And the dress she has on here is a nod to Coal Miner’s Daughter does a thrift shop. And that’s who she is. She’s kooky and I like that. She’s a funny queen and she does it on purpose. She likes to do a nod to 30s film stars. But at the same time, she idolizes Tina Turner. If Tina Turner was a Busby Berkeley showgirl, that’s what you have here.
Raven (Season 2)
She had this one black dress toward the end of the season that was long. It was very Cher. Her hair was long and down. That was my favorite. But she appears on Drag U in this crazy Pippi Longstocking, Hazy Fantazy look with a white China doll wig that’s been teased up. It’s kind of punk Pippi Longstocking. Crazy and gorgeous.
What she’s saying with it is that she likes to have fun. She’s open for anything. She can do the classic to the kooky punk rock silhouette. In this punk silhouette, she had a skirt with these huge platforms—like a schoolgirl skirt—with two bikini tops that were used together. I think she may have had leggings or leg warmers and arm gauntlets and this white China doll wig that’s been teased up. On anyone else, it would have looked like she was trying to hard. Butbecause of her intellect and because she’s so smart and funny and her body is so gorgeous, it worked.
Pandora Boxx (Season 2)
She’s a perfect example of that queen who doesn’t take herself too seriously. And she is the classic funny queen so a lot of her clothes have those elements in them. My favorite is this Drag U outfit—where she’s got little cars and theDrag Race checkered flag and a racetrack on her outfit.
Also her Carol Channing is flawless. Most of the kids didn’t know who Carol Channing is, which I think is so surprising. But that’s also what being a queen is all about, knowing your history and knowing your pop culture references.
Jujubee (Season 2)
The sari! I love that dress. I love that dress. I don’t know what the other judges thought of it but I really did love it. I remember her sauntering down the runway with her arms out and she looked like she’d stepped right out of a Bollywood production. She’s got a great body and loves to show it off. She loves the curves.
Manila Luzon (Season 3)
I love chartreuse anything, especially on the perfect skin tone and she pulled it off beautifully for the finale. She wore that chartreuse evening gown. She’s got a great sense of who she is and a great sense of style. And she always adds humor to it, which she knows she can pull off, without it seeming vulgar or too campy. She loves the camp and she does it very well. Because she has such a gorgeous body, she can get away with really anything.
Alexis Mateo (Season 3)
She’s such a lovely queen and so much fun. She’s a showgirl at heart. I loved this one where she has the cape on. She looks like a superhero and it’s so her. And she was completely feeling it. That’s my favorite from Miss Alexis “Bam” Mateo.
Yara Sofia (Season 3)
Oh my goodness, she is Miss Body Oddy Oddy. She shows that gorgeous body at every turn. When I think of her, I think of when she wore the traditional white outfit with the scarf tied around the head and then she took it off to reveal a bathing suit made out of the Puerto Rican flag. Which is pretty brilliant. For a drag queen to pull off a skimpy bathing suit like that, that’s pretty awesome. That’s no small feat. She’s got a gorgeous body.
She’s very avant-garde. She tends to go toward the Lady Gaga deconstruction, Alexander McQueen type of just out-there kind of costume. Not necessarily femme queen at all. The only thing that’s femme queen about her is that she does show her body. But she’s not opposed to wearing something that is more art than it is fashion.
Mimi Imfurst (Season 3)
The one she wore to our reunion special where she actually had an embryo—a Plexiglas attachment that was to emulate a pregnancy that actually had a baby in it. Of course, the network made sure it was blurred out on camera because it was pretty out there. But that’s Mimi Imfurst. She thinks way out of the box. She’s on the edge of good taste but I loved it. Talk about “Know thyself.” She understands what she’s doing.
Latrice Royale (Season 4)
Miss Glamazon herself! There was the one outfit, where she really got it right. She really hit the mark with that gown during Season 4. She’s traditional Southern drag. Bigger is better! And more is better. She’s not afraid of the curves. And there’s a lot of the classic drag that I grew up with in Atlanta, Georgia, which is very glamorous, very adorned and very polished for a pageant. Even though she has so much soul and so much personality that she transcends the pageant world. But she carries herself like she’s in the Miss Black America pageant.
Chad Michaels (Season 4)
This is an easy one because Chad knows Chad. And Chad is married to her costume designer so everything that Chad comes out in is impeccable and beautiful and fully realized and fully conceived. But my favorite would have to be her giraffe jumpsuit with yellow hair. I love that so much. It was so beautiful and it was modern and edgy and something that I would love to wear myself. She’s another who is a classic, put-together queen.