Last weekend I did something I should have done a decade ago. I went to a drag party. It was the most sensational experience I have had in too long, and let me tell you why. Everyone was in costume. Never mind that I could not tell a heterosexual from a homosexual, I could not even tell a woman from a man. And that was the most liberating experience in the world. The freedom to be who you chose to be, regardless of what your parents told you you were.
A drag performance is derived from theatre. Since centuries, it was men who performed the women’s parts in plays (Shakespeare famously poked fun at this with gender confusions in his plays like As You Like It). Some etymologists state ‘drag’ is a literal abbreviation of being “dressed as a girl”. Others say it refers to the woman’s gown sweeping across the floor.
Regardless, the name has stuck for centuries and so has the fame. Drag parties today are cross-dressing parties, drag queens are men who dress as women while drag kings are women who dress as men. However these days, with so many people questioning and obliterating the gender they were born into, drag simply means a party where you dress up fantastically and perform to songs of your choice. There is a great celebration of sexuality, because even though most queer folk may question their gender, they celebrate the expression of their sexuality. It is exaggerated of course, which may cause the unfamiliar to blush. But once you are welcomed into their context, you really wish you were more like them. These are people whose sexuality has not been allowed out of the closet, so this is them waving it in our faces now.
The drag party I was invited to (these are strictly secret soirees and by invitation only) took place at a posh bar in central Mumbai. An unusual location, as most underground parties are known to pop up in the far-flung suburbs of the city, where the less conservative live. I have also heard of some parties taking place at another posh south Mumbai restaurant, since the growing tribe of queer folk and allies who frequent these are also spenders at the bar.
But honestly it is the vibe of the party that is its biggest draw. Mind you, not all guests here are queer. The allies are highly creative people from fashion, film and even the rare business family—they are simply here to enjoy the sparkle and shimmer, and the removal of many masks although the faces are painted on.
The room is filled with colourful wigs, feather boas, sequins, confetti and stardust. “It is like a children’s party,” I told my accompanying friends, leading stylists, as we walked in. “It’s not,” they echoed before they broke into laughter. Soon enough, the performances began and I began to catch on to the energy.
I especially loved what a subversion of fashion drag dressing was. Home-style, DIY fashion that was once the bane of costume parties or street-walkers is now the space for heightened creativity and self-expression. Fake pearls, synthetic clothing, sequins, colourful makeup, netted stockings or even shirts, diamond waist belts, piercings and tattoos—everything fashion schools taught us to clean up and wipe out is now clever costuming.
Drag costumes really take us back to the primal origins of fashion: you can be whoever you want to be with the right clothes. It isn’t the price tag on your frock that matters, it is how it makes you feel.