“Look good, feel good, safety third.” Drag king Dr. Wang Newton told me that back in 2017.
I had just started doing drag and back then I was quite literally shaking in my boots every time I stepped out the door looking extra fab. Negotiating my sense of comfort and security while honoring my fluidity and playfulness has long been a struggle for me. When I’m dolled up and on stage I project the confidence of the diva I know I am, but offstage and in public I often find myself incredibly anxious about how I am being perceived. It’s hard because even at my most dressed-down I’m hyper aware of the attention: glaring eyes from across the train car, snickers from men as I’m pumping by, or biting words that continue to sting throughout the day.
It takes thick skin to exist in this world as a queer person. But whether I’m running errands, going to my day job, or working out, I’ve found many ways to move through my environment that, for me, feel euphoric and expansive. Often these gestures are small: a bit of midriff or a fresh manicure – even a spritz of my perfume can be a lovely reminder of my femininity. Sometimes I tap into fantasy. What character am I today? What story am I in? These are moments I rarely document for myself or for social media. Most of my content consists of my professional work, whether it’s drag looks, modeling photos, and the odd sponsored post. This is where I feel most in control of how I’m being seen by others. But for me, putting on a cute little outfit, especially when it’s just for me, can be the most fun I have all day
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So, here we go – a peek into some of the (less) glamorous moments of getting ready:
I’m biking to Duane Reade. I can’t stop thinking about this Tiktok audio that says, “Are you Little Shirt, Big Pants? Are you big shirt, big pants? Are you Big Shirt, Little Pants? Are you Little Shirt, Little Pants?” I decide that it’s a Big Shirt, Little Pants kind of day. This reminds me of when I was a kid and would wear my parents’ T-shirts around the house and pretend like they were dresses. I choose a boxy-cut, white T-shirt that ties at the neck and hangs open in the back and my favorite athletic shorts. I love this outfit because it looks very unassuming from the front: a T-shirt and shorts. The back holds a sexy surprise: a flash of skin as I’m passing you on my bike. I like to think that I’m turning heads in this look. I’m also wearing a couple necklaces, AF-1 sneakers that my friend Oscar gave me, vintage Chanel shield sunglasses that are perfect for biking, my Outlier by Willie Norris bag, and, of course, my helmet (safety third).
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I’m frantically rushing to get ready for the Papi Juice boat party in New York. I have to be in Midtown before the boat leaves the dock in a couple hours. I’m excited because the Papi Juice dance floor is where I feel the most free to dress as myself (or whatever version of myself I am today). I’m usually running a little late but I actually know what I’m wearing today. It’s one of my top five thrift-store finds of all time: a navy-blue pinstripe Jacquemus minidress that I found new with tags for $7 in 2016. I last-minute decided to change the strap of the dress from a halter to a one-shoulder, so I’m sewing at the last hour. I wear it with my Nike x Jacquemus JF-1s which I was recently gifted (they’re actually so comfortable) and a necklace from my friend Pauly’s brand, Petal2Metal.
I run out of time to do my makeup but it’s probably for the best. I find that the more time I spend getting ready, and the more products I layer onto my skin, the less sensual I feel. Don’t get me wrong, I love beating my face and giving high glamor. But that makeup is art and I end up treating it as such: no touching, no exposure to direct sunlight or moisture. I want to feel HOT. So I do a bit of concealer and my go-to blush and highlighter from Noto Botanics. It’s a sexy, dewy, sunkissed combo that pairs perfectly with sunsets and sweating on the dancefloor. The party gets canceled because of the air quality due to the recent wildfires in Canada, but I’m already done up, so I go out for oysters and wine instead.
So hungover, I need brunch. I can’t think too much about my appearance: I throw on an oversized, striped, button-down shirt, and some vintage running shorts I stole from my friend last night when I got tired of wearing my dress. I’m wearing the same jewelry from last night, my trusty Camel Sandals that I’ve had for almost eight years, Prada sunglasses, and a vintage raffia handbag with a metal and bamboo handle. There’s nothing chicer to me than leaving the house with the least amount of items possible.
I left brunch and have been wandering around Brooklyn for hours. It’s a beautiful day: still early enough in New York summer that it’s warm in the shade, but not so oppressively hot that I’m sweating through my shirt. I look down and realize that my “trusty” sandals are actually on their last leg – like, hanging on by thread, moments from disintegrating, last leg. I do what needs to be done and visit my thrift spot, Beacon’s Closet, for an emergency shoe purchase. After a couple laps around the store, I spot a pair of black western boots that look like they might be my size. They fit. And so begins my cowboy boot era.
I’m getting ready to go into my day job in the city at a vintage store. I start with the boots, obviously. It’s hot out so I opt for Little Shirt, Little Pants. I go for a cream-colored knit top that ties in the back, and on the bottom some jean cut-off shorts that have been perfectly shredded by too many wash cycles, layered over pink boxer shorts. This feels like the perfect tension between masc and femme energies. I look it over and I think I look cute but I get a twinge of anxiety thinking about showing this much skin on the train in the morning. I throw on a baseball cap and my Prada sunglasses and suddenly I feel like I’m a celebrity dodging the paparazzi. It’s just the right amount of delusion – safety third? – that I need to carry me through my commute.
I’m on my lunch break and I see some clothing racks on the street. I realize it’s my friends’ clothing sale and decide to peek while I eat my lunch. Something gold catches my eye – a chainmail halter top. I probably shouldn’t, but it’s only $10 and I’ve wanted one since I saw Keira Knightley in that clubbing scene in Bend It Like Beckham as a child. By the way, all of her looks in that movie are top tier fashion inspo for me. I was always obsessed with how sporty and masculine her look was. And then seeing her in that chainmail top, with the tiniest bit of makeup, dewy skin and her signature pout – I can’t help but want to be her. It feels very are-you-a-boy-or-girl-coded, which I think might be my calling in life. Ok I need the top. I make a quick Venmo transfer, and I’m on my way. I get back to work and try the top on in the fitting room. Immediately, I feel the sharp sensation of my body hair getting caught in the gold mesh. I wonder if Keira ever dealt with this? I doubt it. I put my original top back on. I think I’m okay with not being her today.