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: The Ugly One
Time doing drag: 8 months
Side hustle: DJ and party promoter
“My relationship to money is complicated. Sometimes I think about the value of my time, but other times I feel so lucky to get paid to do drag. Before a gig, I’ll spend three hours getting ready and a lot of money on a costume. So I have to think about what my art’s worth, but I also get to dress up in a fun outfit and go out and dance around and lip sync, then get paid. There’s a duality to it.
I DJ Monday to Wednesday in Toronto’s gay village and if I show up in drag, I’ll often do a number and get some tips to add to what I’m making. When I’m DJing, I make a DJ fee—like $50 for the night. If I show up in drag and perform, maybe I can make $20 in tips. An average booking fee is $100 and I can make that if I’m booked to perform. I also produce events, [including] a monthly party called Kunst Kids with another performer, Kasper. If I’m producing a show, I’m usually taking a cut of the door. There’s been nights where I’ve taken home $300—that’s the most I’ve ever gotten paid. I was DJing and producing the event. We all split the money from the door. There’s also nights when I’ve barely broken even. There’s a lot of instances with Kunst Kids where if it wasn’t for the tip bucket, I wouldn’t have gotten paid. It’s very unpredictable.
I try to keep any outfit I make under $100. Typically, when I perform in the outfit I’ll make that back, then I’ll wear it again and make more money. The camo dress I’m wearing in this photo is three t-shirts from an army surplus store I cut apart and sewed back together to make a floor-length gown. I stoned each section of the camo with colour-coordinated rhinestones. The t-shirts were $20 each and I spent another $20 in rhinestones.
A lot of people take cabs and Ubers home. I will take off my wig and costume, put on my sweats and go home on the bus in full face. For me, if I’m only going paid a small amount, why am I going to spend half of that on my ride home? If I sit closer to the front, near the driver, I feel safe. I can handle myself; I’m a larger person and I can deal. If I pay $3 to get home, it makes way more sense for me.”
1. Boots: “These are from Dolls Kill. They have a lot of fun shoes and they go up to size women’s 11. I got them on sale—they were $200, but I got them for $100.”
2. Wigs: “On average, a good wig is $50-$100. The blue wig was $50, the beehive was $60, the other blonde one was $90.”
3. Yellow plaid outfit: “This is a full Cher Horowitz moment. I made it for a surrealism party and painted my body pink, but I recently got do my whole Clueless fantasy—I performed a number in this dress to a Clueless mix. I was living my best life.”
4. Turban: “This was $3 from a hair supply store. I wear it with clip-on bangs tucked under it so it looks like I’m wearing a wig.”
5. Bag: “This is Jackie. She’s a one-of-a-kind bag made out of scraps from costumes from this designer, Bcalla. Bcalla makes stuff for Drag Race girls like Violet Chachki and Sasha Velour. So… This was a spurge item.”
6. Green sequin pants: “This is a pair of pants I made out of a dress I got from another drag queen, Champagna. It was originally a toga. It was a lot of sequinned fabric, so I decided to rework it into pants. They were totally free!”
7. Gloves: “I think I stole these from someone.”
8. Palette: “This palette’s by Morphe. It’s become a go-to for drag artists because it’s really affordable and they make bright coloured palettes. This one was about $25 and it gives you so many options—so many fun colours.”
9. Crocs: “These are by a brand called Cape Robbin that specializes in designer dupes. They’re a dupe of Balenciaga shoes. You can see where I fixed them with a little piece of ribbon.”
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”
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”
Priyanka: “The Way Drag’s Blowing Up Right Now, There’s Definitely Potential to Work Full-Time”
Maris: “I’ve Performed for Free in the Past, but I Try to Stay Away From That Now”