Friday, April 6, 2018

DRAG, the Series: Costume

I have decided to leave this series of posts, intentionally, in a very draft form. This owes to the upheaval of the past month of my personal life, yes ... but it also feels fitting, as the entire point of this discussion of drag is about construction and challenging assumptions. To smooth it all into coherent, long prose might obscure the various parts, and thoughts, I have put into this, and they perhaps should stand out starkly. In honesty, much of what I say is just intros to the links embedded. And so, here is this series. Unfinished. Challenging - to me, in one sense, and to the audience in another. Seems right ...

We began sewing at least 50,000 years ago. Clothing and textile ever since have been used not only for practical purposes, but symbolic ... and, if you think you are not dressed symbolically, even if you're reading this in your jammies, think again. LOOK again.

Most of us choose our symbols out of prefabricated options, sometimes with more consideration than others. But think about a drag queen; as often as not, she has created her own "look" - not merely in terms of painted features, but also in costume. A queen is a seamstress, a model, a performer - wearing a thousand themes through a thousand nights, and generally conceiving and creating every aspect of a look and a performance all on their own. A queen is inspired to a theme, but also has to look to practicals - is the piece I'm making utilitarian for me to sing, or lip synch, or dance, or all of the above? What are the optical principles in presentation - in a dark hall or bar, in front of this crowd or that, in front of dozens - or hundreds - or thousands?

Dressing outlandishly is an art. Indeed, *many* arts. From design to performance, from choosing materials to deploying them, drag is head-to-toe ... inflatables, headpieces, shoes, unexpected materials. There is engineering to consider - will this prosthetic makeup hold up to the movement of my face, will the paper gown survive sitting down, or a long meet-and-greet with fans?

Makeup AND costume

fashion history and what's old is new again ... The study of the history of costume is the study of history itself, and perhaps a more insightful one than strictly reading direct sources. Looking at modes and methods of dress can tell the story of social priorities - even scandals - and deepens our understanding of the times in which surviving textiles or portraits were made. Oh MY!

what is appropriate to wear where. Clothing as instruction: this is for girls, this is for boys ... the eye it takes not just to see these distortions, but then to parlay them into art, beauty, and commentary.

Our culture is about choosing an identity and sticking with it so people can market shit to you
--RuPaul Charles

You hear often that drag is an "armor." The thing is, this is true for everyone, every day. The importance of costume exists for EVERYBODY, even those who think they're not doing it, not paying attention. If you dress yourself at all - and if you don't (there is no escape, Major Major) - we present ourselves to the world, even when we're not dressing up for other people. Even when all we present is what we prepared just to manage the physical act of living.

If humanity as a whole is constantly evoking, demolishing, reimagining, and retrieving our fashions, even as we feel the need to just-as-constantly make fun of what is old. Sometimes, those among us creating the real rules by which we actually live are those of us destroying what, ideally, we might like to be the rules. Drag is destruction, and simultaneously it is creation. That's a hellaciously difficult magic trick, and it is one of the keys of beauty itself.

Self-decoration is older than homo sapiens itself; in the ochre of ancient hominid burials, we see the urge to beauty - to self-presentation - in the deepest history of what we are. It is tied to religion and death, and without it there is no culture, no society at all.
............ "The only thing I didn't like was the makeup" ... "You don't need makeup"

"Fake it till you make it" ...

Grand Guignol
We use exposure to our fears to get over our fears, but also for the *thrill* of the fear.

Not long ago, I was watching an episode of "Lucifer" in which an immortal character is costumed in a completely innocuous sweater with a peter-pan collar. She's in no way presented with fantasy color or extreme style, but her sweater is embroidered with dozens of bees. It wasn't a design choice 99% of viewers would even register, but for the very few who would, it was meaningful - and quietly gratifying.

All our clothing is projection. Drag is projection. Projection of wishes, projection of feelings, projection of fears - thrilling, and inuring. And beautiful

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