Tuesday, September 19, 2017

SHE WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY: The Cost of Drag – From Wig to Face to Heels, MISS GAY TEXAS AMERICA 2017 Violet S'Arbleu Breaks it Down

We originally put this post together pre-Hurricane Harvey, which as we all know, devastated Houston, home to our newly crowned Miss Gay Texas America 2017 Violet S'Arbleu. 

Though spared any personal or property damage due to Hurricane Harvey, in the immediate aftermath, she was deeply shaken, and said at the time, "I'm OK. My spot is blissfully dry for some unknown heavenly reason, but I've been so distraught trapped in my house watching the news. So many people and such suffering. It's put my life on hold too, but I'm dry and safe (knock wood) so that's all I can hope for right now."  

Holed up at home, Violet stayed in touch with friends and her MGA family via social media and posted videos of herself running up a cute new gown on Facebook.  

Violet recently donated $15 from the profits of each "Hearts With Houston" T-shirt sold to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. She says, "I dedicated my first-ever merchandise item to raise funds for my struggling neighbors and friends. Thank you to everyone who bought a T-shirt!" 

Voilet is featured in this month's issue of Houston's OutSmart magazine, just did a hilarious interview about the cost drag on the drag-loving "Feast of Fun" podcast, and this very post was reposted on the World of Wonder (producers of RuPaul's Drag Race) blog, The WOW Report.

Now, from the Tumblr page of the recently crowned Miss Gay Texas America 2017 Violet S'Arbleu, this fascinating post on the costs of drag--financial, physical, temporal and a few wise words on life as a drag queen. Violet, the stage is yours...
Miss Gay Texas America 2017 Violet S'Arbleu by Michael Andrew Voight

Drag is EXPENSIVE. Trying to do it on a dime, while admirable, is virtually impossible. Shaved legs,  a leotard, and a wig will still cost you a solid $50. You throw some makeup in there and a decent pair of shoes and you’ve passed $100.

And if you’re in an amateur contest, the only money you can expect to get is given to you one dollar at a time by a critical crowd who just saw the latest runway looks on RuPaul’s Drag Race. That’s a high bar to match, and it’s almost impossible to turn a profit on your first outings.

The easiest way to present this information is to break down what everything costs, and of course the only person whose budget I know to the dime is my own. So, perhaps it’s the wrong choice or too much information, but I’m going to be completely honest with you guys about exactly what it costs to create one Violet S’Arbleu.

However, I’m going to be a LITTLE reserved and only give you low estimates for how much things actually cost. 

One appearance costs $650 in supplies. My usual Friday show takes over $1000 to put on. And these are CHEAP estimates. Ready for the breakdown? Get out your grocery lists, because if you want to make your own Violet S’Arbleu at home, you’re going to need to pick up a few things.

First things first: She’s got a face.

$2 - Elmer’s Disappearing Purple glue stick for the brows.
$20 - Ben Nye Super White setting powder to cover the glue (you can buy a smaller container for $8 but the largest tub is much more bang for the buck so it saves money in the long run).
$9 - Ben Nye clown white PASTE (not the cream) over the mustache area, then…
$8 - Ben Nye tattoo cover in Apricot over the clown white, then set it with…
$12 - Ben Nye Fair setting powder to lock in the neutralizing orange beard cover before foundation.

So far, all you’ve done is get rid of your eyebrows and your 5 o’clock shadow and you’re about $50 in.

$12 (x4) - foundation pan sticks… I use four Mehron colors: Ivory Bisque, Light Olive, Medium-Dark Olive, and True Tan (a hot pink used just to cover my mustache) and then…
$9 - Ben Nye cream foundations in clown white (NOT the earlier paste) and dark Egyptian to exaggerate the highlight and contour AND to draw my brows (white for the brow bone highlight, brown for the brow), all set with…
$20 - Ben Nye Translucent Neutral Set setting powder to lock the face down.
$50 + ($12 x 4) + $29… so now you’ve got on your new skin and brows, pre-“makeup” for $125. 

Now here things get tricky: I’ve got a LOT of colors and products I’ve accumulated over the years… like for Christmas, I do the Grinch, which is a green foundation with yellow and black cream to highlight and contour, plus the same white I already use, or my blue face which needs two blue foundations. For brevity, let’s condense this to a bare bones “no frills” face of just neutral brown shades and blush, like when I’m really rushing for a show.

$12 (x6)- Ben Nye Eyeshadows. I’ve got about 24 of them, but a standard “neutral” face needs five: White (to highlight cheeks, nose, and eyes), Nude (“Shell” for eyes and blending anything into my skin), Light Brown (“Cork” to contour nose, forehead, cheeks, and jaw), Dark Brown (“Black Brown” to deepen eyes, fill in eyebrows, and add the darkest contour spots to nose, forehead, and cheeks), and Black (for eyes). Add in “Nectarine” for blush and that’s six eyeshadows.

$1 - Liquid Liner. No lie, my favorite liner that I use RELIGIOUSLY is from the dollar store by my house. There’s my winged eye and my beauty mark. I get my gloss there too, but lips come later.

$73 of product added to the $125 from above is roughly $200. It’s actually more by now because of tax, but we’re going to ignore that on this list. And you don’t even have lips and lashes on yet.

$10 - Ben Nye lip liner. There are cheaper options at CVS, but I treat myself to good liner, and you should too, because if you sweat at all [I do] you don’t want that to move. Besides, we’re doing Violet’s expenses for this worksheet.

I have AT LEAST 7 lip liners in different shades and some 40 lipsticks and almost as many glosses… but again, we’re doing bare-bones expenses for this Violet face: one of each. A good standard shade is Rum Raisin. Dark enough to read, neutral enough to cover a lot of nice shades.

$5 - lipstick. You can get a $3 CVS brand, a $5 Ulta shade, or a good $8-9 brand like Revlon or L’Oreal. Your call. A favorite pink of mine is an old Ulta called “Pink Crush”. And it works with Rum Raisin. 

$1 - lip-gloss. I’m not a dancer so I don’t usually worry about hair in lips. If you’re a mover and shaker, set your lips with neutral set (which will mute it) or eye shadow (which ups the color. You can use the Nectarine for a strong coral or drop another $12 on a fiery red to really wow). I don’t like dry lips so I don’t do any of that, and I just use my favorite LA Colors glitter glosses from the Dollar Tree by my house. Bargains are always good.

$3 - eyelashes. Grab a good pair of 301s which can be $2-6 depending where you find them.
$5 - eyelash Glue. Duo in Dark is my preference.

Now we’re up to $225, but the face is finally on. Oh, but we didn’t use any brushes or sponges! 

A pack of wedge sponges is $4, and my acrylic brushes for foundation were $20 for the set, and my cosmetic brush collection is a handful from Mary Kay, Urban Decay, an organic line from CVS, Mustaev, Ben Nye, and e.l.f.  …..let’s just round DOWN and say my brushes cost around $75 total. So $100 for applicators. 

$325 now.

You could maybe find cheaper brushes, but I doubt it, and again, this is what a Violet costs. 

Now, for you die-hard Violet fans, you’ll know I NEVER leave the house without glitter. Add in $6 for Ben Nye brush-on glitter glue in clear and $2 for glitter from Sally Beauty, or $6-8 for glitter from Ben Nye/Mehron/Graftobian, or $15 for glitter from Bella Terra or Mac… I have about 60 glitters now because I LOVE playing with the colors. But let’s just price one for this example.

Average that to another $15 and we’re at $340 before paying any sales tax. But doesn’t she look pretty!

Haha now that we’re good on the face, let’s do the body!

$20 - foam from JoAnn’s (the good green stuff) to make hips.
**we’re not even going to put a price on the 8 hours I take to carve the hips for myself**
$30 - boob forms, clear but a realistic silicone gel, also currently from JoAnn’s because my former style went out of business.
$5 - nude bra that I got on sale that is falling apart but I WILL NOT give up.
$15 - nude body shaper, also on sale. It needs replacing but that style disappeared.
$18 (x6) - dance tights! Cover that green foam with a layer of black tights, then five layers of flesh tone on top to even it out.
$15 - nude fishnets. Not a requirement but they keep you from having the dreaded “wood leg”.
$10 -  waist-cincher girdle. It keeps the pantyhose from rolling, to put it succinctly.
$8 - Nails. I make mine, but a pack of Kiss press-ons is about $8 so we’ll just use those for the sake of speed in this list. After all, if you’re not wearing nails, you’re not doing drag.
$325 from before + ($18 x 6) + $103 = $535, just to be a bald Barbie Doll.

Now, she needs to go out in public and make money. I am still going off of what a Violet S’Arbleu will cost you, but we’re going to do a VERY inexpensive outfit just so your head doesn’t explode. 

$25 - hair! I have a fabulous store with $25 GOOD lacefronts, so pick a bouncy full one to toss around.
$30 - American Apparel leotard. Maybe you’re a dancer, or maybe I’m just feeling sassy for the night, but there are some fun prints at the American Apparel and you could make one work for an 80’s number with some fun accessories. Which reminds me…
$5 - for a decent belt from Harwin, a cheap shopping district here in Houston.
$20 - a fair pair of clip-on earrings ($5), a ring ($4), and maybe a bracelet ($10) if you’re feeling fancy. I’m not big on necklaces, and they usually cost more.
$20 - Maybe you found a cute pump at Payless, maybe you grabbed something wild from a resale shop.

Either way, she needs a shoe.

A VERY SIMPLE belted Leotard outfit for something like….. Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”… just cost you $100. Now that I have picked that song too, I would personally toss on some leg warmers to really make it sing; depending on where you find them, add $10 more for $110.
$110 + $535 = about $650. I’m rounding up because once again, we haven’t thought about sales tax.

Now I know what you’re thinking: $650 to do one number? 

That’s CRAZY. And it is. But that’s drag. On a Tuesday, I do three numbers… and they’re not all leotards. On Fridays, I have an opening number and FOUR solos, plus Stripper Circus immediately after, so that’s 6 looks in one night.

And when you think about any look with two wigs stacked, or a Nova Starr jewelry set (mine have all been $100-125) or my usual three or four bracelets, or perhaps a nice vintage dress, or fun shoes, the price tag climbs quickly. On each number.

So even if I wear the same wig all night, 6 cheap, minimal looks is still going to be at least $75 each, which is just under $500 total. If you add that to the earlier $535 instead, you get over $1000 of Violet on a Friday. But realistically, add in one or two sets from Nova, at least one beaded gown, and two or three wigs for those 6 looks on my vintage-themed Friday show, and you’re easily at $1500 or more. 

I know what you’re thinking: but you don’t have to spend that EVERY night.

Once you buy all of that makeup and those 6 outfits, you don’t have to spend that money again.

Well yes and no: First of all, there’s a lot of upkeep with drag. I easily drop $100 every month on upkeep, things I HAVE to replace: like when a foundation runs out or a setting powder hits the bottom, or maybe I just put a run in the tights.

Also I don’t wear the same outfits every week, and as an audience member, you don’t want to see that either, so I have to have new stuff frequently… so I can expect to spend over $100 a month on new clothing or accessories or supplies to make things. That’s over $200 a month, every month, just to keep up with my job even after all of the money I’ve spent in the past.  

Listen to Violet's hilarious interview on the "Feast of Fun" podcast.

True, over the years, Violet has acquired a good number of things. I work very hard to not be repetitive in either song choice or in look: She’s got her own room with 7 years of costumes, headpieces, jewelry, accessories, and props, with a closet under the stairs just housing the non-styled wigs.

I’m a VERY savvy shopper, but I’ve still spent quite a bit of money. Obviously you don’t need all of these items to create YOUR very own Violet S’Arbleu, but while I’ve opened the door on what it takes to be me, I might as well tell you the whole story.

I’ve got probably 140 wigs now in almost every real color from platinum to jet black, plus a handful of unreal shades (most of them in the $20 range, with a few up to $40 and about 10 styled wigs at $100 or more). That’s over $3000 just in hair. 

Shoes? I’ll say I’ve probably got 75 pairs which includes a few I’ve worn out but can’t bear to part with. They cost me anywhere from $10-40 so let’s just say $20 each? That’s $1500 just in shoes.

I’m not even going to TRY to put a dollar amount on my jewelry.

I. Love. Jewelry. Every color, every shape, every style, and every excuse. I’ve got a drawer of just rings, a shoe box of all silver bracelets and one all of gold bracelets, one of necklaces, and one of just pearls in all kinds of colors.

I’ve got brooches and pins, rhinestone belts, beaded chains and fringe accessories, collar pieces, and easily close to 100 pairs of earrings. Some of my stuff cost just a dollar or two, and some was over $100 (like each of my nine sets from Nova Starr and Chad at Wicked Jewels).

I’ll place a conservative estimate and say I’ve probably bought $7,000 in jewelry over the last 7 years, just so that it averages out to $1000 a year. But I suspect it’s probably closer to $9,000-10,000.

I don’t think I could even attempt to accurately price my wardrobe, between vintage pieces, hand-me-downs and gifts, resale shop bargains, and things I’ve made for myself. I’ll just SAY I have 400 items of clothing in Violet’s room. And they’re not all $30 American Apparel leotards. 

And of course, there’s the makeup. I gave you the absolute minimum of what one face takes, but I’ve actually got 35ish eyeshadows, a dozen colors of foundation, a collection of eyelashes, the makeup REMOVERS, the 50-60 sets of nails I made, three or four dozen lipsticks, at least as many lip glosses, and of course the entire range of glitters I have bought from all over the country. Let’s round down and say my makeup collection cost me… $1000? But it’s definitely a larger figure than that.

So glossing over the cost of the actual costumes themselves, and forgetting for now that it costs a steady stream of $200+ a month just on upkeep, we’ve got $3000 + $1500 + $1000 + $7000 = $12,500, and that still doesn’t account for ANY costumes and the other accessories like gloves, hats and headpieces, belts, glasses, scarves, purses, and my trademark greenhouse of upwards of 2500 fake flowers in all those shapes and sizes that I’ve worn in my hair for my entire career.

Just to arbitrarily pick a number for that, let’s aim really low and say $2500, which conveniently adds up to a nice round $15,000 in physical products that combine to make one Violet S’Arbleu.

But honestly, it’s realistically upwards of $20,000.

With Miss Gay Texas America promoter, Christyan Sangineto

However, drag costs more than just money. If you’re GOOD, you are generally dedicating a fair amount of time to your craft (which will be addressed more in “Staying in Touch: Using the web for more than just Facebook”), but it does consume your free days.

It also takes a toll on your body: Caking your face a few times a week, and removing that cake, has the potential to wreck your skin regularly, plus the physical demands of squeezing, pulling, shaving, cinching, twisting, taping, stretching, and reshaping your body do add up. And let’s hope you don’t buy a new product that your body has an allergic reaction to… 

Drag also generally takes over your life visually too, filling the back seat or trunk of a car, or lining your living/dining/bedroom with newly-acquired items until you figure out where to keep them. And sometimes even after that. Plus the odd hours ruin your sleep schedule and affect a lot of potential healthy-eating options.

The most fun, though, and perhaps the costliest part of drag overall, is the almost-immediate “undateable” label that many gay guys love to stamp on you the second you leave the house in heels.

Yes, we all know humans love to make things as simple as possible, and the minute a gay guy can label you “Drag Queen”, he’s happy to categorize you as such. 

And unfortunately, many guys are so shallow that they don’t care to know a guy behind his makeup because he’s not interested in dating someone who he can immediately write off as less of a man—even with the popularity of something like RuPaul’s Drag Race and those same guys saying he has a crush on Pearl or Milk.

I for one know I’m not less of a man, but I live it every day. Guys who don’t live it have no idea, and they aren’t always open to take any extra time to understand something they don’t have to know about. 

It’s the same for HIV or foreign culture…it’s easier to ignore something than to learn about it. But it’s all a greater part of the problem where gay guys more and more isolate and shame themselves within our community. Understanding leads to unity, and we as a commUNITY need to start holding hands again, not huddling into small groups with our backs to each other. 

…Anyway, to get back off the soapbox, it’s a hard life to make a living as a Drag Queen, but if you’re lucky, like me, you can cover your bills, stay fed, and have a place to sleep. I’m very fortunate and I am very aware of how lucky I am to essentially live the life of a performance artist.

But I do live very close to the hilt… there’s no savings, no insurance, no safety net. If I miss a show because I don’t feel well or my body can’t handle being bundled up for 5 hours, there’s a very real chance that a bill might get paid late. But again, we’ll cover this in next week’s article…

To summarize, Drag is very expensive, and it’s also very costly… but thankfully, the rewards are worth the investment. I am so blessed that I get to express myself creatively, through costuming and makeup, through performance, through social media, and through text… I can comment on social or political issues, I can exercise onstage or off, I can have a voice AND use it, or I can even just make a bunch of stupid faces… and all because I’m wearing women’s clothing. 

And I can keep myself alive on the money I make doing it! It’s a crazy life, but it’s my life, and for the time being, at least, I’m happy to be a starving artist with no dental insurance.

So now you know WHY she works so hard for the money, and that’s why I appreciate you giving me your hard-earned money, one dollar at a time. It’s not a joke when I say it on the mic… I really do pay my rent with $1 bills, because that’s my income and that’s how it comes to me, from you.

So there you have it, because Voilet (so generously) LET you have it! Now go her Tumble page and read her latest, equally edifying and fascinating "Service Industry Standards: ‘Appearance fees’ and Tipping needs”

The 45th annual Miss Gay America Pageant takes place October 4 - 7 at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. 40 female impersonators from across the U.S. will compete for the Miss Gay America 2018 crown. Read the press release here