Drag *looks* expensive, but in reality, being a drag artist is a working class gig. (Unless you’re on RuPaul’s Drag Race, duh.) To find out what it’s really like to try to make it as a queer artist in one of Canada’s expensive cities, FLARE asked nine Toronto drag performers on the rise to show us what’s in their drag bags—and then we got down to real talk about their finances, from tipping culture in Canada to hustling to make rent to shopping for fake boobs.
Drag name: Priyanka
Time in drag: 2 years
Non-drag job: Media
“During the day, I work a freelance job in media. Sometimes I work five days in a week, sometimes I work one day. Because I have another job, I see it this way: The harder I work in drag, the more money I can put into drag. The reason I’ve been able to fund two music videos and fund performances in two big drag competitions is because I work so hard during the week—both in drag and not in drag.
I hire people to do a lot of things: To style hair; make lashes, my padding, my costumes, my nails; create music with me, produce music videos, work as backup dancers. There’s a lot of people to pay—and I pay them all out of my drag money. I’ll count up a bunch of $5 bills I got as tips and pay a backup dancer in fives.
For my first video, “Say My Name,” I had to pay for the studio space, dancers, makeup artists, costume, hair and shoes. I had to pay for a speaker rental to play back the track, and for the camera person and the editor. That set me back a lot. For my second video, “You Look So Good,” some of my collaborators worked on it pro bono for their demo reel, but I still incurred a lot of costs. I edited it myself to save the money, which helped because it cut a corner but it also made me more invested in the project. I shot the video from 8am to 8pm, then went to do an 11:30pm show to pay for a couple things. Because with music videos, you don’t make the money you invest back. I work in media, so I have friends and I’m getting cheap rates. I’m not paying the full production company rate, but I’m making sure everyone gets paid.
The most expensive part of being a drag artist for me personally is the upkeep in outfits and costumes. You have to invest a lot of money in outfits unless you really know how to sew. It gets really expensive. I’m an impulsive person and I like to get new things all the time. But that’s also made for success in my drag career.
The most expensive thing I’ve bought for drag is the gown I wore to step down at the end of my reign as Miss Crews. That cost me over a grand. I had it custom-made and you have to pay for the fabric, for the construction, and for the rhinestones. If you don’t have time to do it yourself, you have to pay someone to stone the gown—and stone your shoes to match. It’s a lot.
Hair you can always re-style. If you pay $100 for a wig, you can pay somebody $40 to re-do it, or if you know how to style hair you can do it yourself. Makeup is the cheapest thing. To start up, it costs a lot of money. Hundreds of dollars. But upkeep is very cheap. Palettes last a long time and brushes stay good if you wash them. A new lipstick costs $20 here or there.
I used to say I didn’t want to do drag full-time. I have a lot of friends who do drag full-time or at least creative things full-time and I know it’s very hard. It can be scary. Like, I can never move out of my place. If I do, my rent will skyrocket and I won’t be able to live near the village, where I perform. Toronto is getting more and more expensive and as artists we don’t get paid a lot. We get a couple hundred dollars per gig if that, and we work our asses off. As a queer artist living in Toronto, it ain’t easy. But the way drag’s blowing up right now, there’s definitely potential to work in drag full-time. I would still like another job part-time, though—a “rent and bills” job and a fun drag job.
1. Lunchbox: “This is from a kids store. It was $6—a deal! I’m a child inside, so I figured my lunchbox could be my makeup bag. Who doesn’t like their initial on something? I’m a branding queen.”
2. Hair Bonding Glue: “This is designed to keep your wig down, but drag queens use it as eyelash glue. It’s $6 at any hair salon or wig shop. It’s not the healthiest thing, but you don’t have to worry about your lashes flying when you do a head whip or a cartwheel.”
3. Pencil: “That was a birthday gift from another queen, Sapphire Titha Reign. When it comes to Disney Princesses, Jasmine’s my girl. I’m became obsessed with Jasmine when I started to do drag and could express myself in a feminine way.”
4. Pin: “I sell these pins for $10 a piece. But here’s the actual truth: Sometimes I get drunk and give them out for free.”
5. Chocolate: “That’s been sitting in my bag since Valentine’s Day. It’s called The Perfect Man and I’m always looking for the perfect man so I feel like I have to keep it on my person at all times just in case. He’ll be my good luck charm when I find love—and love is hard to find as a drag queen!”
6. Boot: “This boot is a classic, standard thigh-high. It’s easy to dance in. I [am] size 11 or 12, so I shop online at Shoe Freaks. These were about $150, but if you want them in a different colour, it’s $200. I have black, white, red, and pink in this style—I wear some version of this boot four times a week.The heel on this pair is worked in and I need to order a new pair but I don’t want to because guess what? That means working them in again.”
7. Lysol: “I spray my bag to make sure it doesn’t smell like the usual drag bag. One time I sprayed Baby Bel Bel on her chest because she smelled bad. She broke out into a bad reaction, but I don’t feel bad because she did smell bad that day.”
8. Safety pins: “Diaper pins are the best pins to use in drag because they won’t accidentally open on you. I got these ones in Pride colours for $8 on Amazon.”
9. Boobs: “These are silicone, they run you between $80 and $100 for a pair. These ones are designed for an open chest outfit. They’ll keep the form. You can also buy a foam pair for about $30.”
More What’s in Your (Drag) Bag:
Tash Riot: “I Was Raised to Be Careful With Money, but to Be Honest I Don’t Really Think About It”
Manghoe Lassi: “My Career Has Definitely Allowed Me to Be More Extravagant With My Drag”
The Ugly One: “There’s a Lot of Instances Where, if It Wasn’t for the Tip Bucket, I Wouldn’t Have Gotten Paid”
Manny Dingo: “I’m Very Cheap. In a Month I Might Spend $40 or $50 on Makeup”
Archie Maples: “I Make Sure My Bases Are Covered Rent-wise, but It’s All $100 at a Time”
ZacKey Lime: “Drag Kings Don’t Really Get Tips. I Can’t Tell You Why, But It’s a Problem”
Halal Bae: “On a *Really* Good Night I’ll Make a Few Hundred Dollars”
Maris: “I’ve Performed for Free in the Past, but I Try to Stay Away From That Now”