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.

Contributor

As told to Leah Harper

The GuardianTramp

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