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The History of Drag

The History of Drag

The History of Drag

Drag is more than just a form of entertainment; it’s a vibrant, evolving art form with deep cultural and historical roots. From ancient theatrical traditions to modern-day digital performances, drag has played a crucial role in challenging gender norms and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights. So, let’s dive into the fabulous and fascinating history of drag.

Early Origins of Drag

The concept of drag, or cross-dressing for performance, can be traced back to ancient cultures. In ancient Greece and Rome, men commonly played female roles in theater because women were not allowed to perform on stage. This early form of drag highlighted the performative nature of gender and set the stage (pun intended) for centuries of gender-bending performances.

Drag in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, drag found its way into religious plays known as mystery plays. These plays depicted biblical stories, and since acting was considered inappropriate for women, men took on female roles. This tradition persisted, subtly challenging the rigid gender roles of medieval society.

Renaissance and Elizabethan Era

The Renaissance and Elizabethan eras were golden ages for theater, and drag was an integral part. With the emergence of Shakespearean plays, boys and young men played female characters, creating iconic roles such as Juliet and Lady Macbeth. The famous actor Edward Kynaston, known for his female portrayals, became a star, demonstrating that drag could captivate audiences.

19th Century : Vaudeville and Burlesque

In the 19th century, vaudeville and burlesque shows brought drag to a broader audience. Performers like Julian Eltinge gained fame for their convincing female impersonations. Drag in this era was not just about gender illusion but also about satire and comedy, poking fun at societal norms.

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Early 20th Century : Drag Balls and Speakeasies

The early 20th century saw the rise of drag balls and speakeasies, particularly in urban centers like New York City. The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural hotspot where drag flourished. Drag balls, where performers competed in elaborate costumes, became legendary, as depicted in the documentary “Paris Is Burning.” These events provided a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals to express themselves.

Mid-20th Century : Drag and the LGBTQ+ Movement

The 1950s and 60s were a time of significant social upheaval, and drag played a vital role in the LGBTQ+ movement. Drag queens were at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, a pivotal moment in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who identified as drag queens, were instrumental in these protests.

1970s and 80s : Drag Goes Mainstream

The disco era of the 1970s and 80s saw drag gaining mainstream attention. Movies like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and performers like Divine in John Waters’ films brought drag into popular culture. Television shows and music videos started featuring drag queens, expanding their influence.

1990s : The Rise of Drag Queens in Pop Culture

The 1990s were a transformative decade for drag. The documentary “Paris Is Burning” introduced the world to the vibrant ballroom culture. RuPaul emerged as a global superstar with the hit song “Supermodel (You Better Work),” breaking into mainstream media and paving the way for future drag artists.

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2000s : Global Drag Phenomenon

The 2000s marked the globalization of drag, largely thanks to the success of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” This reality TV show brought drag into living rooms worldwide, showcasing the talent, creativity, and resilience of drag performers. The show has spurred international versions, highlighting diverse drag cultures from around the globe.

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Drag in the Digital Age

The digital age has revolutionized drag, with social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok providing new spaces for drag performers to showcase their art. Virtual drag shows, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have allowed artists to reach global audiences, breaking down geographical barriers.

Drag Fashion and Makeup

Drag fashion and makeup have evolved dramatically over the years. From the glamorous looks of the 1920s flapper drag queens to the punk-inspired aesthetics of the 1980s, drag has always been at the forefront of fashion innovation. Iconic drag looks, like RuPaul’s extravagant gowns and Trixie Mattel’s exaggerated makeup, continue to influence mainstream fashion.

Cultural Impact of Drag

Drag has a profound cultural impact, particularly in challenging and expanding our understanding of gender. By blurring the lines between masculinity and femininity, drag artists push society to reconsider rigid gender binaries. Moreover, drag has always been a form of protest and self-expression, giving a voice to marginalized communities.

Challenges and Controversies

Despite its popularity, drag faces challenges and controversies. Within the LGBTQ+ community, there are debates about the representation and inclusion of diverse identities in drag. Additionally, drag performers often face discrimination and hostility from those outside the community. These challenges highlight the ongoing struggle for acceptance and equality.


From ancient theaters to digital stages, drag has come a long way. It has evolved from a theatrical necessity to a powerful form of self-expression and social commentary. As we look to the future, drag will undoubtedly continue to inspire and challenge us, celebrating the beauty of diversity and the strength of individuality.

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What is the origin of the term “drag” ?
The term “drag” is believed to have originated in the theater world, referring to the sensation of long skirts dragging on the floor when men played female roles.

How did drag influence mainstream fashion ?
Drag has significantly influenced mainstream fashion by introducing bold, innovative styles and challenging traditional gender norms, inspiring designers and trends worldwide.

What role did drag play in the Stonewall Riots ?
Drag queens were key figures in the Stonewall Riots, with individuals like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera leading the charge and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.

Are there different styles of drag ?
Yes, there are various styles of drag, including traditional drag queens, drag kings, bio queens, and non-binary performers, each bringing their unique flair to the art form.

How can someone support the drag community ?
Supporting the drag community can be done by attending drag shows, following and promoting drag artists on social media, educating oneself about drag culture, and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.

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