How Drag Influenced Your Makeup

Over the years actresses, models and the makeup artists behind the scenes have influenced our ideas of beauty but another subversive genre of self expression has gradually become a hotbed of innovation for makeup techniques that are now spilling into the mainstream. Katie O’Reilly from Rimmel London examines how our favourite drag artists have influenced our beauty looks.

The contrast between light and dark has been used in theatre to change someone’s age, gender and even convey emotion since the days when you were painting for the people in the back row to see. As film and TV makeup became more sophisticated so did contouring techniques and while the average person in the 90s may have used a little bronzer, makeup artists were highly skilled at layering and blending dark matte and light shim m er products to create shape and dimension on top of a blank foundation. 

Early episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race reveal a much less polished look than the 6’4” glamazon is known for today, but Ru’s makeup artist got better as the show got more popular and in the era of YouTube makeup tutorials, old school theatrical techniques suddenly burst onto the scene. As Violet Chatcki puts it: “We don’t want to look like women, we want to look like drawings of women” and so contouring for queens is less about accentuating your natural bone structure and more about painting a completely new one. Drag Queens are big fans of foundation sticks as they allow for maximum product layering and make it easy to map out your contour shape. This has inspired many beautiful contouring products that are on the market today but with the focus on precision of application rather than heavy formulas. 

Kate O'Reilly


After applying your normal foundation, map out your contour with a dark grey toned stick product on the recessed parts of your face and then blend into the skin. 

  1. CHEEKBONES – Create a long triangle shape, thicker at your ear gradually tapering under the middle of your cheek. Some drag queens apply their contour very low, but I prefer to keep it high tucked right under the curve of your cheek so that it doesn’t look too beardy.
  2. TEMPLES – create a block of shadow at the temples following a diagonal section from the corner of your eye and the end of your brow, all the way up to your hairline.
  3. JAWLINE – slim your double chin by applying shadow just underneath your jaw. You can even make your face more narrow by shading away the edge of your jaw or your chin shorter by shading directly onto the tip.
  4. NOSE – Avoid following any curves on your nose and aim to leave a straight band of light on your nose bridge. Do not spread the dark colour out onto the cheeks, keep it in a neat even width line either side of the nose. While obvious lines might look ok on the cheekbones, the nose is the area that should be blended the most by stippling (continuous light tapping) with a sponge or brush.


Use a light shimmer product to accentuate the high plains of your face. 

  1. CHEEKBONES – create a curved shape under each eye on top of the cheekbone.
  2. TEMPLES – a straight line from above the arch of each brow travelling up into your
  3. JAWLINE – add contrast to the dark colour under your jawline by highlighting in your
    ideal jaw shape.
  4. NOSE – Draw a very thin line along the bridge of your nose and finish with a dot on
    the end, like an exclamation mark!


Masculine faces have low straight brow bones that jutt outward from the face with sunken eye sockets below. To feminise a face one must “block out” the existing brows to draw on higher curved or arched brows up in the middle of the forehead. The old school technique for blocking out eyebrows involved glue and wax that were a challenge to work with but luckily some low-key genius simplified the technique with a humble stick of Elmer’s Washable Glue. Like a purple Pritt Stick that dries clear, Elmer’s completely dissolves in water so it’s very easy to remove and much less risky on your delicate brow hairs. Somewhere along the way, while experimenting with brow blocking, someone must have noticed the unreal control possible with this water soluble glue and this is where the trend for gravity defying brows was born. Beauty therapists now offer a brow lamination service that uses perming fluid to straighten the hairs and point them up to the sky, but it is possible to create this look using just makeup. 

  1. Apply a clear brow gel backwards against your brows hairs in a kind of backcombing move. This allows you to lift the hairs away from the skin while loading them with lots of product.
  2. Gradually begin to comb the gel laden hairs upwards against the skin, maybe at as light diagonal. Switch to a clean brow comb if there’s too much product. You might feel very strange with your new hairy look but persevere, there are a few more steps to come!
  3. If the hairs are sticking out from the face, place your finger under the brow and gently roll it over the hairs to press them down.
  4. When the hairs are all in place you might notice a lot more gaps than you thought you had. Once the brow area is dry, use a grey toned brow pencil slightly lighter than your hair colour to sketch little hairs in the same direction as your brow hair. You are aiming for a band of thin upward hair strokes with gaps between them, not a block of one colour.
  5. Finish the look using a brow gel in the same colour as your hair to give extra depth and texture.


The cut crease is a favourite of YouTubers and Instagramers, but the technique arguably comes into its own in the hands of a drag queen. If you look closely, what appears to be a drag queens eye socket is actually all the way up on top of that blocked out eyebrow. This technique allows you to place your eye socket wherever you like, meaning you can change your eye shape or fix a drooping eyelid. 

  1. Apply an eyeshadow base or concealer so your eyeshadows have something to grip onto.
  2. Using a fluffy blending brush, layer a light brown shadow above your eyelid.
  3. Switch to a darker colour to deepen the lower edge of the socket.
  4. Get a clean flat brush and some concealer or eyeshadow base. Apply the product all over your lid
    and then use the edge of the brush to cut into the shadow blended on your socket. This allows you to carve whatever eyelid shape you want. Keep your eye open and eyebrow relaxed so that you can see exactly what it will look like when finished.
  5. Finish with a light or bright colour on the lid and some eyeliner.


So far, our drag queen has drawn some eyebrows onto their forehead and faked their eye socket on top of their real eyebrow. Next, they will use the space on their eyelid and fill it with eyeliner. These new giant eyes make their face look smaller and more feminine in comparison to their features. While I wouldn’t recommend completely covering your lid in liner, we can use this as inspiration for our own makeup. 

  1. Keep your eyes open and look directly into the mirror. Relax your eyebrows, make sure they aren’t lifted in a surprised expression, because once you relax those muscles again your eyeliner will land in a different part of your face.
  2. Use a pencil eyeliner to create your ideal eye shape, extending your eyes wider and more almond shaped or giving them more curves and height in the centre of the lid.
  3. Refine the shape by smudging the pencil or cleaning sections with makeup remover on a q-tip.
  4. Once you’re happy with the shape, commit with a final layer of long lasting liquid liner.
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