Sasha Velour is the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine, founder of Velour: The Drag Magazine, and creator of “Nightgowns,” a riveting drag theater show (which ELLE.com got an inside look at in the video above). Here, the artist and entertainer writes about falling in love with makeup for the first time.
I was never introduced to lipstick; if anything, it was concealed from me. “Boys don’t need lipstick,” my mother said with the intention of being factual. She was afraid I wanted to draw on the walls. What I really wanted was for my lips. To. Pop.
My mother hated lipstick. She wore it once a year, a thin smiling line for temple on the high holy days. She had about five tubes, the same shade from different companies: A glossy raspberry nude that was as close to “no makeup” as possible. All of them were kept in a tiny paisley zipped bag in the top drawer of the antique dresser she shared with my dad, balled up next to the pantyhose and hair ties.
I know this for certain because I would sneak in and open the drawer every time she left the house. One by one, I’d open up each tube, as if one could have become a bolder shade over night. I’d fashion a turban from a towel, a cloak from a blanket, throw on my mom’s snow boots (the only chunky heel in the house), and paint the house down (aka wear mom-colored lipstick and my grandma’s dilation sunglasses). I didn’t know who Norma Desmond was, but I would have loved her.
My salvation was Halloween, and a full-coverage red foundation designed for clowns that my mom purchased for my first-ever Dracula costume. I didn’t know it, but I had found the ultimate way around the lipstick ban: VAMPIRES! Vampires had red lips—even the boys.
I told the kids at school I was a vampire for real. I had all the facts to back it up: I was Eastern-European, had very pale skin, black hair, and was awake most of the night…that’s why I needed some gorgeous red lips to match. This same logic would later lead me to identify with Morticia Addams, Charlie McCarthy Ventriloquist dolls, and Queen Amidala.
I decided to do drag when I was 23, right after my mom got diagnosed with cancer. Instead of covering up my femininity as I had for many years, I asked myself what it would be like to embrace it. It’s a cliché, but life really is too short to be spent in hiding. I drove myself to the nearest mall and bought a black jumpsuit and patent platform pumps, a red turban, and Revlon fire-red lip gloss. I never got comfortable with tube lipstick (too many raspberry-tinted disappointments), but that afternoon, finally, a glistening wand of perfumed gloss gave me the perfect red pout I had always dreamed of. I’ve never once looked back.
Today my lips are drawn on with two shades of razor sharp lip pencil, a layer of burgundy liquid lipstick and some of that fire-red gloss, then covered with loose red glitter fixed with setting spray. After 31 years, I’m proud to say that my lips truly pop.