An encyclopaedia of the best RuPaul's Drag Race looks (Part 1)
With its 11th season currently on air, this show has become a cultural phenomenon since it started in 2009. It has brought drag queens to the mainstream and launched lucrative careers for many LGBTQ people. But I’m not here to discuss its cultural or political significance; no, I want to take you on a far less intellectual journey, but it will be a way more aesthetically pleasing one. Any attempts to condense this into a list of 10 would have been futile because 1) I’m too indecisive and 2) there have been too many great looks. So, if you like Drag Race and fashion, make sure you’re comfortable because I’ll be going through my favourite looks from the first 10 seasons and 4 All Stars. (In fact, this is only part 1 because I’m not expecting anyone to read 5,000 words in one go.)
As the show has progressed, the runways have become increasingly more polished and more scrutiny is put on the queens to deliver a good look. This is why it should come as no surprise if my selection of favourite outfits heavily favours the later seasons. There are certainly looks that hold up, though, even almost a decade later. I mean, Season 3’s Raja and Manila are still amongst the most iconic fashion queens.
Violet Chachki’s Season 8 crowning look
Why not start with the best one of them all? No doubt Violet will appear many times on this list, but I had to honour this look first out of respect. I think this dress is seared into my mind not only because of its beauty, but because the whole moment was so perfect. Having been the winner of season 7, it was her turn to pass on the crown to her successor. Sure, Violet always looks amazing, but no one was ready for what she was about to bring to the stage of the season 8 finale. I think it was her way of saying, “I may no longer be the reigning queen, but you will remember me”, because she completely outshone season 8’s top three. The blue satin dress with its purple and gold embellishments looked ethereally iridescent under the stage lights. It moved so beautifully, her waist was cinched to microscopic proportions and it was a great moment when she took off her hood to reveal a crown which seemed to be growing out of her head. Not to mention, her arms, chest and forehead were painted with a purple hue and blue veins which made her look like a glamorous corpse. The huge jewellery and bugs on her chest and face further played into the morbid opulence.
April Carrión’s Best Drag look (Season 6 Episode 3)
Due to her short run on Drag Race, April is quite an underrated queen and this look makes it difficult to understand why. The blue fringe on the umbrella moved so beautifully and the two-piece is a sexy take on the classic yellow mackintosh. I love the pink detailing too, the colour combination really pops. I didn’t think you could make rain sexy, but here we are.
Season 7 got a lot of criticism for being boring, but it consistently gave us great runways. Pearl’s was my favourite this episode, looking like HIM from the Powerpuff Girls. I love her Mugatu hair and the fact that the beard was made with glitter paper. An honourable mention to Miss Fame’s harlequin and Max’s romantic fencing look.
Naomi Smalls’ Wizards of Drag look (Season 8 Episode 6)
This was iconic because Naomi hadn’t really been standing out on the season up to this point, and then she ate this challenge with her Wizard of Oz scarecrow couture look. I love the collar, silhouette and bowl cut. I’m easily pleased by all her looks because that body makes anything appear high fashion, but this was really a serve.
This runway belonged to Detox and Katya. I don’t know how Detox managed to make latex look high fashion, but she really killed it. I remember someone calling it National Geographic meets Italian Vogue and I agree. And then we have Katya in a hilarious yet beautiful outfit, giving us synchronised swimmer fantasy. I love the attention to detail with the matching gloves, swimming cap and nose plug. And the combination of bright colours always makes me happy.
Speaking of colour combinations, this is the supreme. Aquaria changed my life with her good twin look. The pastel purple goes so well with the mint green, it’s been inspiring me ever since. I adore the bodysuit itself, with its asymmetrical ruffled sleeve, collar and pearl detailing. Along with the plumed hat she exudes 18thcentury aristocracy, but the colour combo and seamless boots and glove give it a twist. You can tell she really has an eye for detail because she included that little pop of green under her hat which doesn’t seem like a vital element to her outfit, but it just wraps it up so cohesively.
Manila has been killing it since her Drag Race runway debut. And, oh, was it a cute one. I mainly put this look in here because I wanted to talk about the adorable white fur handwarmer which matched her hem, sleeves and earmuffs. It’s not anything revolutionary – she was supposed to bring Christmas and she gave it to us beautifully. It helps that her mug looks gorgeous as well. I’m still bitter about the fact that she didn’t win this challenge.
Although her tendency to be extra made Laganja a bit of a meme on the show, this look was really great. The pale face, bright lips, dark eyes, blushed cheeks, barely-there eyebrows and short waved hair give her a 30s cabaret girl air, complimenting her dress which walks the line between granny and fashion. I love the floral sleeves, collar and hem, although maybe it could have done without the tulle. And the pièce de résistance: the butterflies, which are suspended on her head in a way which make them seem like they’re mid-flutter. I’m not mad that the colours don’t exactly match, I think the light orange of the butterflies compliments the almost peachy pink of the dress.
Re-watching this episode is always so funny because you get to see the other queens talking shit about Sharon’s dress (I think Phi Phi called it a dirty tube-sock). Those who predicted she’d go home first didn’t realise how silly hindsight would make them look, considering she won the challenge and the season. This look was great because at this point we hadn’t really seen this kind of unique, spooky drag on the show before, and the idea of what drag is was more constrained. I could explain what makes her look so great for this category, but you can see for yourself. And lest we forget how she got to the end of the runway and opened her mouth to spill fake blood down her face and dress.
Latrice Royale’s Plastique Fantastique look (All Stars 4 Episode 7)
Latrice never really looks bad or un-polished, but she’s not exactly known for being fashion forward. That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise when she turned the corner and walked down the runway in this look. I can only imagine how uncomfortable it must be under all that latex, especially for a big girl, so I commend her for stepping out of her comfort zone. I love the silhouette with the puffed sleeves and fishtail hem, how the blue lipstick matches the bright colours of the dress, and the long purple ponytail made of plastic bubbles.
I’ve been a fan of Aja since the first time I saw her on my screen. I always appreciated her colourful aesthetic, though admittedly her execution on the season 9 runway was not always so polished. That’s why watching her on All Stars 3 was such a pleasure, we got to see her creative concepts executed flawlessly. She completely delivered in terms of the challenge: not only did she give us two wig reveals, but her initial hair was uniquely unconventional. However she made those huge yellow plaits (I’m going to guess paper), she did a great job of making herself look like she stepped out of an anime. I’m a sucker for the combination of sweet, bright colours and the bows adorning her arms and legs, making her look like a kawaii superhero. And I want to shout out the detailing around her waist; the way the lining flows in and out of pink and blue is a lovely detail.
I disagree with the use of this dress for this specific category, but I’m happy I at least got to see it. I understand that the silhouette may not be considered flattering since it does nothing to show off the body, but a successful look is not necessarily one that you have to look sexy in. The shape of the dress is actually really cool and makes her look regal. I love the way it moves, almost making her look like she’s floating down the runway. The silk jacquard fabric looks expensive and is nicely complimented by the light blue collar and blue details in her makeup. The bejewelled tears on her face give this look the same kind of mournful beauty that I love in the religious art of weeping Mary’s or crying cherubs.
On a big hair runway it’s only right that someone should pay homage to Diana Ross’ own titanic tresses. The sheer volume of hair in itself and its adornment with lilies is so pleasing to look at, especially when you see it bouncing down the runway. I enjoy the recurrence of the flowers round her flares, and how they flounce around as the pants flow with her walk. The shade of green looks amazing with Valentina’s tanned skin and further plays into the lilypond fantasy. When the episode first aired I was a big fan of her stoned gloves, and I’m still not mad at them since the crystals play off well on stage, but they have been so overdone since season 9 that I’d be happy if they stayed off my screen in the future.
I love how Asia embraced the runway theme, rather than just giving us a dress hemmed with feathers. The Tweety Bird reference is fun but also executed really well, since if the feathers were sparse it could have looked cheap. I commend her as it seems like this took commitment, since that look alone must have taken up a suitcase. The hair is so adorable and perfect for the cartoonish look and blowing up her fringe to reveal her eye makeup was a really entertaining and cute touch. It was also a cool moment when she clasped her orange-gloved hands together to give the appearance of Tweety’s beak so, all in all, a very good job.
Chad Michaels’ Red Carpet look (Season 4 Episode 4)
I had to include this look because – although admittedly it’s not the most extravagant, shocking outfit to walk down the runway – I’m dying for the Florence Welch reference. At least I hope it’s intentional, since that’s all I’m getting from the combination of the red hair with the iridescent, floaty, ethereal, blue dress. I’m always here for billowy sleeves and sheer fabric, so this look speaks to me.
Written by Anastasia Vartanian