Drag Race's Michelle Visage: 'I was obsessed with having a body like Mae West'

The reality-show judge on how drag, the New York ballroom scene and having her breast implants removed all influenced her style

This was the full-length, body-hugging gown that I wore to the Emmy awards in 2017. It’s by Marc Bouwer who is pretty legendary – he designed a lot for Toni Braxton in her heyday, and he was everywhere in the late 90s.

Style changes as we age; that’s the beauty of it. You learn what looks good on your body and you adapt – but that’s fun for me. There are things that used to look terrible on me that now look really good. I bring my sense of style to RuPaul’s Drag Race [where Visage is a judge], for better or for worse. I’ve always dressed for myself – it doesn’t mean everybody’s going to like it or approve of it, but that’s drag. My look is “showgirl meets red carpet” – I try to walk that line.

The New York ballroom scene heavily influenced my sense of style. It’s where I started in the gay scene and where I got my drag roots. I became really obsessed with fashion in the late 80s/early 90s and would watch every fashion show on television, such as Style With Elsa Klensch. I was broke so I would borrow or make pieces – whatever I could do to walk the balls.

When I was young, I was looking through an encyclopedia for a school report and came across Mae West. Her style was amazing to me: she was a drag queen. I remember writing in my diary: “When will I get breasts?” – I was obsessed with having a body like hers, hence my implants being the size they were. But having them removed last year [because she believed they were connected to an autoimmune disorder she was diagnosed with in her late 20s, Hashimoto’s disease] has made it easier to dress. Before, they were always bordering on being fully exposed. There’s certainly fun to that and I love large breasts, but for me personally, I would sometimes border on looking vulgar. Even jackets – and I love a suit or a blazer – would have to be tailored because I couldn’t close them. Now I don’t really have that issue. I can wear things that previously I wouldn’t have fitted in.

When I’m not working and I don’t have to wear a corset or a bra, I love comfies. So does Ru! The lockdown has meant it takes as much as I can to get out of my pyjamas (but when I do, I just put on my red lips and find that light). Thankfully I was able to fly home to LA in time to be with my family.

RuPaul’s Drag Race: Werq the World tours the UK from August.


As told to Leah Harper

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Drag Race's Michelle Visage: ‘Once you stop caring what people think, you’ll be free'
The reality show judge hustled for 30 years before RuPaul’s show made her a star. She talks about the 80s New York club scene, why she won’t call herself bisexual – and how Madonna stole her look

Emine Saner

24, Mar, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
‘I love drag. It's dangerous’: Graham Norton and Alan Carr on desire, camp and ‘cancel culture’
As RuPaul’s Drag Race comes to the UK, two of its judges discuss homophobia, the celebrity they first fancied – and why today’s comedy audiences want more kindness

Chris Godfrey

29, Sep, 2019 @2:38 PM

Article image
TV tonight: backstage revelations with RuPaul’s UK drag queens on tour
The stars of Drag Race UK series two open up to the camera between gigs. Plus: a royal restoration project brings a jobs boost. Here’s what to watch tonight

Hollie Richardson, Hannah Verdier, Danielle De Wolfe, Phil Harrison, Alexi Duggins and Simon Wardell

30, Nov, 2022 @6:20 AM

Article image
Katherine Parkinson on her Ossie Clark dress: ‘I was paranoid I looked like a bumblebee’
The actor discusses her love of vintage clothes – and reveals that Jennifer Lopez was once her style icon

As told to Leah Harper

13, Aug, 2019 @1:12 PM

Article image
Louis Theroux on his favourite outfit: ‘This was a wool-cotton blend. I thought I looked quite roguish’
The documentary-maker wore this jumper for his first set of publicity stills – which included pictures of him naked with a feather boa. His main aim here? Just to look presentable

As told to Ellie Violet Bramley

25, Aug, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
Mandy Moore: ‘There’s much more scrutiny now. You’re seen from all angles’
The actor on sequins, red-carpet disco fun, denim dresses and fast-forwarding her age in This Is Us

As told to Leah Harper

19, Nov, 2019 @11:57 AM

Article image
Kim Wilde: ‘I look miserable, but I was having the time of my life’
The singer on pouting like Lauren Bacall, DIY hairdos, gardening in nightwear and discovering the joys of colour

As told to Leah Harper

07, Apr, 2020 @1:21 PM

Article image
Gold liner, liquid lipstick and eyelash glue precision: drag queen tips for everyday makeup
As RuPaul’s Drag Race comes to British TV, former contestants share their makeup dos and don’t’s, from time-saving tricks to lipsticks that stay put

As told to Leah Harper

03, Oct, 2019 @4:31 PM

Article image
RuPaul's Drag Race UK review – so smutty even Ru can't keep up
With queens like Baga Chipz and Sum Ting Wong serving up realness – and having to explain their very British gags – this spinoff made me feel a rare tingling of patriotism

Rebecca Nicholson

03, Oct, 2019 @8:00 PM

Article image
Queer Eye's Tan France: ‘Men can have fun with fashion, too’
The TV star on how the makeover show changed his look – and why he steers clear of a ‘basic’ black tux

As told to Leah Harper

10, Jul, 2019 @7:00 AM