Inside the dressing room of Trianon in Paris, drag superstar Katya shows the camera crew around.

“We have the girls over here- there’s Michelle, Sharon and Courtney,” she announces. “Okay, here we go,” Katya sits down at her chair and begins ‘painting’- the drag term for a male performer putting on makeup and ‘painting on’ a woman.

Cameras circle around her as she covers and blends her way to drag perfection, as Katya is being filmed for the Glam.com Youtube channel. Just 45 minutes ago, Brian sat down in front of a mirror and glued down his brows, contoured the cheeks, baked the undereye, secured larger-than-life eyelashes down and threw a wig on. Out comes Katya- a blond, smokey eyed and red lipped drag queen, with a curvy body in a sparkly red dress, ready for her number in front of a sea of adoring French fans.

However, watching a drag queen paint is no surprise- contouring and baking is not news to any beauty enthusiast. Contouring first reared its head in the mass media after Mario Dedivanovic contoured Kim Kardashian about seven years ago. Colour correcting- most makeup lovers may use it to block out any hyperpigmentation that foundation doesn’t cover, but drag queens have been using it long before us to hide six o’clock shadows. Contouring is a genius trick originally used to feminize the face by tricking light and dark. Overdrawing the lips is a trick used by drag performers for decades- so why has it only come back in style now?

“Each time I paint my face I learn something new,” says Alexis McQueen. Based in Dublin, she has been doing drag for four years and spends her Tuesday nights performing in the gay bar The George. “I watched hundreds of makeup tutorials on Youtube and that’s where I learned to paint my face.”

With the rise of shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and specifically subcultures, drag culture isn’t a hidden underground secret anymore. Traditionally, drag queens are nightlife performers- entertainers at gay clubs, that twist gender constructs. Social media and Instagram see makeup like never before- with the notion of more is more, brighter colours, bold shapes- ombre brows, strong contour, plump lips.

“Ever since RuPaul’s Drag Race has become more mainstream everybody started using drag makeup techniques that have been used by drag queens for years. All it took was a couple of celebrity drag race fans to use our techniques, which then brought it further,” Alexis explains.

Of course, looking pretty on Instagram isn’t the only reason why drag has so heavily influenced the beauty industry. Drag culture has risen very sharply in the past several years as an art form that was unknown to many. It is a performance art and carries a ritual- of painting, tucking, putting on a wig and getting dressed. The LBGTQ+ community now sees more activism than ever before. Mass media is now much more accepting to not only the gay community, but to creative people- makeup artists, performers, fashion designers. Drag culture elevates these aspects in a single art form. It brilliantly incorporates fashion, beauty, performance, gender and sexuality.

“I think it’s amazing what ‘biological’ women are doing now with makeup, but it’s not all just down to drag- brands are evolving too,” Alexis adds.

And evolving they most definitely are. Marc Jacobs and MarcoMarco have worked with drag queens like Milk and Laganja Estranga to blur the lines between drag and fashion. Wigs are now no mystery to influencers like Nikita Dragun, Gigi Gorgeous and Chrisspy.

Drag is very undeniably now a massive part of the beauty industry and it’s not going anywhere. As our world evolves, so does the way we wear makeup. Without drag queens, all we have left is some foundation, blush and an eye pencil. In the words of Katya, “And now every drag queen contours, not just ones that are rich and date Kanye West.”


Gabija Gataveckaite

Image credit: Marc Zapanta