A handful of Washington’s most prominent drag queens say it’s impossible to guess how much they’ve invested in their costumes over the years.
Like any gal, they need gowns, shoes, jewelry and all kinds of accessories for different occasions — everything from a show-stopping solo number at Town or Ziegfeld’s to day wear for a drag brunch.
Some view drag as a hobby, while others pursue it as a full-time career, but what remains the same throughout is the passion.
Ba’Naka/Dustin Michael Schaad
Getting a start in her hometown of Bradenton, Fla., Dustin Michael Shaad, 29, began drag at 16. The tenacious, nightclub socialite moved in with a family member living in D.C. at 18, when dreams of fashion school crumbled after high school graduation.
Ba’Naka’s closet, located backstage at Town Danceboutique, stretches floor to ceiling, perpendicular to a makeup-covered vanity, which holds drawers full of sparkling jewelry.
“My drag war chest has every kind and brand of makeup you can imagine,” Schaad says. “You will find everything from custom-ordered eye shadow, to CVS brand stuff. It takes a lot to look this cheap.”
A full-time entertainer, Schaad fills the closet with outfits that are eccentric, like the handcrafted Maleficent-inspired gown he made complete with a horned headpiece, and versatile outfits that work for any occasion.
“A lot of my gigs are as a hostess, and for those I wear something low-key, usually store-bought,” he says. “The more exciting pieces are for my performances.”
When it comes to filling a closet, Andre Hopfer is a performer who spares no expense or square footage when it comes to his counterpart, Tula, or her wardrobe.
With 16-foot ceilings, and temperature-controlled storage, there is room for the dozens of dresses and countless accessories worn by Tula.
“When you take the time to build such a collection, you want to make sure the pieces don’t get ruined by moisture or any other problems,” Hopfer says.
A large vanity fills the room with soft light and hanging around it are pictures of Tula from past performances. Far above are trophies.
“I always just did it for fun,” Hopfer says. “I never really liked competing.”
A member of the Academy of Washington, Hopfer performs from September through May an average of two weekends per month at venues such as the Black Fox Lounge, La Cabana and Town, but does not consider drag his career.
“It is a hobby. But I could probably buy a house with the money I have invested.”
Birdie LaCage/Collin Ranney
A long walk down a cement-walled pathway leads to the studio of Colin Ranney.
His master’s degree in scenic and costume design hangs over a rack of garments he labels as “day wear,” his words for clothing that is store-bought then paired with custom pieces.
“And then over here is organized by what I call my costumes,” Ranney says. “Which are gowns, caftans, robes and furs.”
Atop these gowns are feathered headpieces, each with a different design. Looking closely, similarities in the designs above match the ones below.
“I have a lot of things that I’ve never worn, because I just collect them and save them for something, because they are too fabulous not to have,” Ranney says. “I find pieces, then design around them for my looks or certain productions that I am working on.”
A Birdie show varies widely in genres and gender, and changes each week.
“I do a lot of show tunes just by nature. I tend to do a pretty good array of male songs, because I am one and they are in my vocal range,” he says. “I tend to not wear wigs and instead stick to an androgynous headpiece and lately I have been into a lot of ‘80s rock and fringe.”