I spent a lot of time this week trying to think of a male icon to write about; as for the last two weeks I’ve talked exclusively about female icons. Obviously menswear is my main focus and I wanted to talk about fashion from a male perspective. I finally decided upon Harris Glenn Milstead, who whilst most definitely a man, is better known by his stage name, Divine. Drag Queens are going through a bit of a renaissance at the minute. Whilst they’ve always been around, they’re more popular in a mainstream way now than they ever have been. This is due, in no small part, to Ru Paul’s Drag Race. But while recent competitors from Drag Race currently grace the front cover of fashion magazines, it’s prudent to look back to the pioneers who paved the way for the queens we have today.
As John Water’s muse Divine became a counter-culture superstar in her own right. Her legendary performance in the seminal Pink Flamingoes created for the first time an ironic appreciation of bad taste. She’s most famous for eating real dog poo and to be fair that’s a legacy that absolutely no-one else can claim (or would even want to). Divine’s drag was never concerned with ‘passing’ for female but rather exaggerating the female form to cartoonish proportions, eyebrows that arched right into her hairline, always wearing form fitting dresses despite her size. Divine left behind an impressive body of work, with some genuinely hilarious and subversive performances, the kind that most leading ladies would kill for. If you haven’t seen some of her less famous films like Polyester, Lust In The Dust or the original Hairspray you should definitely check them out.
There’s currently a John Waters season at the BFI which is an amazing opportunity to see Divine on the big screen. My personal favourite is Female Trouble in which Edith Massey utters the immortal line “I worry that you’ll work in an office, have children, celebrate wedding anniversaries. The world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life“. Amen to that.
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