Tara Allen-Flanagan, Contributor
Legendary drag queen Ru Paul, creator of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race”.
Notice his baked under eyes, gradient and arched brows, cut crease and contouring
on the cheeks and forehead.
If you pay any attention to the beauty section of Instagram, you will be aware of the latest makeup trends. They range from the glossy and dewy to ultra matte and precise. A Google search for “drag makeup” will not result in articles on how to achieve the dramatic makeup looks men use to stand out on stage; instead you will see a host of articles telling women how they can use drag queen makeup tips in their own routines.
In the past few years trends such as the “Instagram brow” and baking took over the beauty scene, although the more extreme of these trends were rarely seen outside of celebrity snapchat pages. These trends were mistakenly hailed as new and innovative, however, many of them had origins in drag queen culture. Whether you consider the trends to be plagiarized or merely used as inspiration, the appropriation of drag culture into mainstream makeup trends is undeniable.
2014 Eurovision winner and drag queen Conchita Wurst.
Conchita’s makeup is more subdued than drag queens who perform in clubs.
Notice her use of contour, false lashes, dramatic smokey eye,
baking and the inclusion of the beard in her drag look.
Drag queens are commonly men who adorn costumes and make up and take on personas of exaggerated femininity in order to put on performances. A staple of drag culture is bold makeup: many drag queens intentionally ‘paint’ their faces for visibility, others do it for satirical purposes. While it is not a restrictive practice, drag is closely associated with gay life. Some people criticize drag queens for caricaturing women or stereotyping the gay community; yet many people appreciate drag culture for its overt crossing of traditional gender lines and playful commentary on gender roles. Regardless of the social implications of drag, the artistry of the queens has had a lasting impression on modern makeup.
While some drag queens stick to traditionally feminine and classic make up styles, such as 2014 Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst (the drag persona of Austrian Thomas Neuwrith), others engage with the dramatic makeup styles in their watered down and mainstream state.
Make up artist and youtuber Heidi Hamoud’s instructional video on baking
has over 3 million views on Youtube as of the publishing of this post.
The trend of baking has been around for millennia in order to ensure pale complexions in ancient Greece and Victorian England, yet drag queens popularized the use of the technique as it is a central part of their stage preparations. It originated as a method to prevent eye shadow fallout as any mishaps can be swept away. The technique involves slathering concealer on wherever you would like to bake, typically the under eyes. The concealer is then set with translucent powder. The baking part comes in with the application of a thick layer of loose translucent powder, usually with a sponge or dense brush, to the concealed area. After waiting for a few minutes, the excess powder is dusted off with a fluffy brush. The result is a smooth and matte finish to the skin which completely covers any imperfections or discoloration. As the technique can result in a cakey look, baking is best used for situations such as stage performances where performers will be looked at from afar and need their makeup to stay put.
As far as most beauty gurus know, this method was popularized by Kim Kardashian’s makeup artist, and slowly made its way into widespread use. Some beauty bloggers and makeup artists have incorporated this technique into their everyday routines and earn millions of views on their instructional videos.
Another trend that has been adapted from drag queens is the Instagram brow – also dubbed the HD brow or gradient brow. The eyebrow is made darker on the ends with brow pomade or eye shadow and is slowly lightened up towards the enter. There is no attempt to create the illusion of real hairs with make up, and so the eyebrows end up looking painted on. Many users of this method also clean up the edges with concealer in order to make their brows look sharp and crisp. This brow technique is used because it photographs well, but the effect is less flattering in person. Drag queens use gradient brows as another one of their dramatic makeup looks, which creates a fun effect on stage. Make up artists such as Wayne Goss have come out against the trend, criticizing it for looking fake and overdone. While the look may be a bit much for everyday use, fake and overdone are two adjectives which are not taken as insults for drag queen apparel.
Kim Kardashian-West shows off the unblended application of intense
contour and highlight. Notice how the contour defines her
cheekbones and slims down her nose.
Perhaps the most popular and lasting trend, which has been inspired by drag queens, is the use of intense contour and highlighting. These beauty techniques are nothing new, and have been used historically by Elizabethan stage actors and Hollywood actresses to achieve a more defined face. This trend saw a heavy resurgence in 2012, when Kim Kardashian-West revealed the steps her make up artists took in order to achieve her heavily contoured and fully made up face. Once again, drag queens have pointed out that Kim Kardashian-West’s heavy contouring and highlight duo is nothing new, and has been used by drag queens to sculpt their faces in order to appear more feminine under the bright lights of a stage. In a statement given to the Globe and Mail, drag queen and makeup artist Ricky Boudreau confirms the idea that heavy contouring is nothing new: “Queens have been using these tricks from the very beginning,” he says. “Contouring allows you to remove the man and reveal the woman by changing the shape of your face, removing the male jawline and even toning down the Adam’s apple.” Contouring can be as subtle as enhancing one’s natural shadows with dark, cool toned makeup and can be as dramatic as shaping a new nose. Highlighting involves placing lighter make up on the high points of the face to bring those features to the front. When used in tandem, contouring and highlighting can dramatically transform a face by playing on tricks of light.
Youtuber and drag queen Fendi Laken shows off the
before and after effects of contouring, highlight, and baking.
Notice how the highlights bring out the high points of the face
while the contouring slims down his cheeks.
While it is great that drag culture is being brought into the mainstream focus, credit should be given where it is due. Drag queens did not invent all of these techniques, but they certainly brought them into their modern forms and provided make up artists with the tips and techniques that are popular on social media today. Gradient brows, intense contouring and highlight, and baking are techniques used to make sure makeup is visible from far away and hold up on stage. Critics of these trends claim that they are too intense for everyday use, which was never the point of these techniques in the first place. Perhaps if they looked up the origins of the make up techniques they employed, critics would understand the origins of the trends they dub dramatic – because being dramatic is a central element of drag culture.