Drag queen shopping spree
Glamour, glitz, size 12 stilettoes… London‘s drag scene‘s got it all. Time Out joins three of its stars on a seriously over-the-top shopping spree
‘Is it a bird? Is it a GEEZER?’ A cockney stallholder looks confused. ‘I’m a lady. Of course!’ squeals Ryan Styles, ‘her’ thigh-length white boots, frou-frou pink frock and lipstick-shaped bag unmissable in the Friday lunchtime crowd at Ridley Road market. The crowds gather with looks of bemusement, horror, joy .
‘Oooooooh, let’s get some strawberries,’ cries Jonny Woo, eyeing up a tasty fruitseller. Currently the queen of the queens and equally resplendent in spiky heels, a puffball skirt, corset and full face of rainbow-coloured make-up, Woo is now such a style icon that she features both in this month’s i-D and alongside Kate Moss in Pop.
‘We’re going to Party Party!’ he announces and leads Styles, myself and fellow drag queen Xtina Draguilera off through a market full of people taking pictures on their mobile phones, to the area’s leading fancy-dress emporium. There are many things that drag queens are good at: bitching, miming to Gloria Gaynor and making strangers/taxi drivers/market traders stop in their tracks, for example. But shopping is definitely top of the list. The term ‘drag’ , after all, originates from the Polari [gay slang] for ‘clothes’, and ‘queen’ reflects their supremacy. They’ve agreed to let me tag along on a girlie shopping trip where I hope to discover some new consumer paradises and share their style secrets.
Unlike regular shoppers who browse through rails without finding anything they like, these girls know exactly where to go and what they are looking for. They also, I discover, have a refreshingly celebratory approach to buying things.
Inside Party Party, the biggest and best fancy dress and party shop I’ve ever visited, I’m in raptures. There is even an entire floor devoted to cake-making, with a corner for a balloon-sculpting class. ‘It’s just brilliant for stuff: wigs, gorilla outfits, hats, masks… you name it. Ooooh, I might just have to buy this fat suit!’ yells Woo, almost overcome with excitement.
Next stop is Cheshire Street’s brilliant second-hand emporium Beyond Retro, where the wasp-waisted Xtina Draguilera (real name Russell Graham) used to work. ‘Helllllllo, darrrrrrrrrrrrling,’ she purrs to the skinny bloke with long hair and a tank-top behind the counter. ‘We’re going to try some clothes on!’ In a whirl of 1950s prom-skirts, foxy 1980s cocktail dresses and little 1940s metallics bags, my companions set about changing outfits and transforming their look.
‘Oooh, that’s better,’ says Styles, the most effeminate and youngest of the three. ‘This is my prim day look. I feel like Charlotte from “Sex and the City” now.’
Xtina ‘I’ve got the waist measurements of a supermodel’ Draguilera goes for the Alexis Carrington 1980s look with a slutty black frock and spiky red patent stilettos, while Woo has opted for a more suburban 1970s Margot Ledbetter red day dress.
When we leave, the entire population of the school across the road (teachers included) are pressed against the playground fence screaming, laughing and waving at the trio. ‘Hello Mr Clown!’ shouts a little Bangladeshi boy. The girls wave back, in the style of the Queen.
After a parade down Brick Lane and a quick alfresco lunch at the Truman Brewery (during which everyone in E1, including actress Sam Morton, greets Jonny like a best mate), we head into town to theatre shop Charles Fox, a favourite of drag queens. ‘This place is just the best
for make-up and wigs,’ says Woo, introducing me to rows and rows of colour palettes, realistic-looking wigs, and more varieties of false eyelashes and make-up brushes than I ever suspected existed. New wigs and make-up – another new look for the ladies.
At the end of a crazy day, I’m exhausted but inspired. Wearing a long heavy-fringed red wig and having found the best mascara and foundation sponges in existence, I realise this has been one of the best shopping sprees ever. It’s astounding how much you can learn about shopping from a man wearing a frock.
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