Get those dollar bills out. It is time to talk about money and the financial costs of being a drag queen. Now there may be some cheap looking drag queens, but always remember it costs money to look that cheap. In this month’s column I want to share the costs associated with doing drag regularly — from the costs of make-up to the wigs to the rhinestone, sequin outfits and costumes.
In the photo, you will see one of my favorite local drag queens, Lola Olivia Lovelace, showcasing four different looks. Lola is a queen who invests in her drag. She sews, does rhinestones and does hair. She even does her own make-up. Plus, she likes to take a lot of selfies to put on her Facebook page, so I grabbed these shots to help illustrate the costs of drag and being a local drag queen.
Hmmm… After reading this, maybe next time you will pull out those dollars to tip?
Not all drag queens know how to do make-up, especially the beginners. And there are different styles of creativity in make-up, like a fishy look to a more avant garde, dramatic one or even campy fun face. Make-up is not cheap. Foundation and powders cost between $9-$12 each container. Individual blush colors, contour colors and basic makeup pencils range from $8 -$13 depending on the name brand. Eyelashes and eyeliner can be $3-$5. Nails are $3-$6. A 12-piece set of makeup brushes are $25-$50.
The initial investment for a drag queen who performs regularly will likely be upwards of $150-$250 in cosmetics and supplies to just get started. Per show, I estimate that a drag queen may use $20 worth of makeup and supplies from their makeup kit on average.
Whether it’s a lace front or not, wigs come at all price points, colors and quality. As you can see from our drag queen Lola in the photo, there are all types of wigs and styles. Lola’s wigs are professional, high quality wigs and range from $30-$60 each. If you want the wigs professionally styled, that will cost more. Many drag queens (myself included) will also have two or three wigs sewn together to make larger wigs. Multiple wigs sewn together costs more money and can go as high as another $50-$150 depending on the size of the wig and the amount of work by the stylist.
For reference, the wigs in Lolas photos are on average $50 as is. Of course, you can buy costume shop wigs for $10-$20. But good luck, these are often plastic hair and will not last long. They work well for Halloween, but not for a “professional.”
Some might say “real drag” is about one sewing and creating original costumes, dresses and outfits. However, some drag queens shop at outlet stores or Cato. I will leave that argument for another day. Either way, it costs money — some outfits more than others.
Lola can sew, so she saves a lot of money. Most of the outfits pictured will take five yards of fabric for a drag queen of Lola’s size. Five yards is a good measure for our purpose. Fabric comes in all prices, too. Sale fabric can be $2.99 a yard, which is often ugly or a heavy, non-stretch fabric. More expensive fabric, like sequin, is around $25 a yard. Four-way stretch fabric and Lycra/Spandex, a favorite among drag queens, is usually in the middle at $10-$17 a yard.
Overall, textile costs keep going up. Depending upon the outfit, other costs would include zippers, buttons, trim, shoulder pads and the list continues. Then you have to sew it or pay someone to sew it. The final outfits in the photo likely range in cost from $85-$250 in total.
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Yep, a drag queen has a mix of body shapers, corsets, hip pads, butt pads, bras, boobs and panty hose to create that shape. And, you don’t even really see any of this because its all under the dress or costume outfit. Not all drag queens use the same undergarments. Pricing for undergarments are different for each queen as a result. But my recent bra cost me $25, my body shaper cost $50 and my lower body pads cost $150. Plus, I have to wear at least two pairs of panty hose and those tights cost $12 each. And, while you can wash and reuse undergarments, keep in mind they do have to be replaced often, especially panty hose. Total investment for undergarments, I will estimate, is at $250 on the conservative side.
Heels or other types of women’s boots or shoes can be dangerous. There are just so many and such a difference in quality and price from $15-$150. But, luckily, a drag queen has a larger foot size typically, so your choices are more limited. Otherwise, I would be broke!
Remember if you’re a men’s size 10, then you are typically two sizes larger in women’s heels. A safe cost estimate for quality heels that won’t break for awhile is $50 in my opinion.
Jewelry, bags, boas, whips — you name it — drag queens live to accessorize. The most common accessory is jewelry, like necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings. Drag queen professional jewelry is different than what you might buy at Nordstroms. It is bigger than life. Typically, clip earrings are used.
Lots of bling, but not necessarily diamond carats, is the rule. But, who knows, some of these queens may have the real thing. Either way, I would say a drag queen could buy an average necklace, bracelet, earrings and ring set for $75-$100. In the photos, Lola has minimal jewelry, so less can be more (I guess).
Well, you can rip your music off YouTube these days. You can download music from iTunes and pay. You can have a DJ mix you something special and pay them. Either way, music does cost money. Plus, you need to buy CDs or a thumb drive. Cost is estimated at $3 for a Top 40 song on a CD to $50 for a professional mix on a CD.
Now it is time for some math. I got out my calculator. Using Lola’s photos as our comparison and her four different looks, you can safely bet that she invested $650 on the low end of the estimate, just so she can get up on stage and perform one number at your favorite bar. Yep, I even rounded down to get $650.
Booking Fees & Tips
Money, money… well not really. Now keep in mind, a drag queen booking fee for one show is between $50-$100 in the Queen City — unless you are a “RuPaul” drag queen and you make $1,500-$3,000 for a booking fee and then $500 plus in tips. Now, some local drag queens can make $150, and granted some local queens who are national title holders can make more. But, these booking fees may shock you. Plus, a typical show booking is two or three songs. A drag queen on a good night could make $100 in tips for a show, bad night less than $30.
Let me get that calculator again and do the math. So, if Lola puts on make-up and a dress to do a show and she gets paid $75 and makes $50 in tips, the total is $125 for the one show. It would take Lola wearing the same outfit for five shows to come close to break-even. Now, granted, Lola may have done that — but I don’t blame her.
What’s my point? We are your local drag queens and we love you. If you like what you see, show us some love. Next time you go to tip your favorite drag queen, remember drag ain’t cheap — and tip Lola (and all of us) more. : :
SHOUT OUTS: Lola Lovelace sews, does hair, rhinestones and more. Hire her to do your drag. Find her on Facebook under Martin Lovelace or on her Facebook Fan Page for Lola Olivia Lovelace.
— Buff Faye calls the Queen City her home and performs to raise money so she can one day get the key to the city like on “Wizard of Oz” (and raise money for charities). Find her at your favorite bars and hot spots. Plus, don’t forget her weekly Saturday night show with Patti O’Furniture and regular Friday night party bus. Learn more at AllBuff.com. Follow on Twitter @BuffFaye.