What drag queens can teach us about loving our clothes

18 March 2021

Over the last (bizarre) year, Drag Race has been my own personal form of escapism – an hour a week of complete joy, drama, and extravagance. Beyond the glitz and glamour, there’s a lot we can learn from drag queens: in particular, about loving our clothes.

For those not au fait with the world of Drag Race (or drag full stop), queens compete each week in a series of challenges, leading to one being crowned the winner. As Campaign Lead for WRAP’s Love Your Clothes brand, my favourite challenges are those focused on design.

From the very first US episode called ‘Drag on a Dime’, to the UK equivalent ‘Posh on a Penny’, the queens are tasked with taking unusual materials and creating extraordinary looks. Highlights for me have been gowns made from unwanted curtains, as well as the rubber-glove mini-dress from Essex’s own Cheryl Hole.

So, when we planned the latest Love Your Clothes campaign – #ReLoveYourClothes – I knew we had to work with a drag queen to breathe life into our work. Cheryl was a perfect choice for us: not only is she bold and compelling, but by her own admission she’s not the most confident sewer, meaning she’s a relatable voice for showing people that you don’t need to be a professional tailor to put together a great look.

“Beyond actually making many of our own outfits,” Cheryl says, “us drag queens need plenty of sewing skills to maintain what we wear. Lip syncing and death-dropping on stage five nights a week (in non-Covid times of course) means rips and tears are to be expected. With clothing playing such a huge role in our performances, we need to be handy with a needle and thread to make sure we look good as possible and keep our clothes in use as long as we can.”

Every series, there’s at least one contestant who sheepishly admits they don’t know how to sew. However, most of the queens we’ve seen on Drag Race are very proficient, giving our nation’s nannas a run for their money when it comes to hems, darts, and lining. These skills are often considered to be in short supply among the younger generation, but with queens as young as 19 competing in Drag Race UK and tailoring stunning outfits, I think there’s hope.

Our research shows a positive picture when it comes to the public’s attitude towards clothing and its impact on the planet. An increasing proportion of the population actively avoids wasting clothing, and two-thirds of people go out of their way to ensure their unwanted clothes go to good use. Currently, over 300,000 tonnes of used clothing goes to landfill every year in the UK, so it’s crucial for all of us to do more to make the most of our clothes. However, our research shows that not many people are confident with sewing or repairing. Sewing a button on is something that 73% of us would be happy to do, but that falls significantly when we think about taking up a hem (38%), patching a hole (35%), or redesigning an item (14%).

Redesigning items is a key skill that drag queens need to have up their sleeves. So, my hope is that, by working with Cheryl on the #ReLoveYourClothes campaign, we can inspire our 18–34-year-old target audience to be adventurous with the clothes they’ve left to linger in the wardrobe. Cheryl’s created videos to show people how easy it is to add fringe or appliques to garments, or trying new clothing combinations; simple actions that can transform how our items look. From there, we hope people will check out our simple guides to other repairs and fixes, all of which keep clothing in use for longer.

We don’t all need to rock up to work in rubber-glove mini-dresses. What we do need is to find ways to keep clothing out of the bin that work for us. The most sustainable garment is the one you already own, so I hope Cheryl’s message will inspire people to re-love their clothes. Even a supermarket aisle can work as a runway for your re-fashioned clothing creations!