all sewn up
Parties, pantos and club nights may be going online, but dressing up remains essential. With dressmaking for the male shape in demand, we meet some of this boom industry’s local makers and wearers Writer Jackie Martin
gap in the market has emerged. High street retailers can’t fill it, fashion courses don’t teach it. Dressmaking for the male shape is a potentially huge new area of trade and skill, accompanied by a string of design challenges created by non-female proportions, silhouette and gait. While RuPaul’s Drag Race UK has introduced a wider audience to the wonders of no-expense-spared transformations, it’s often the simple practicalities that prove demanding: curves simulated with sponge and wire; extra long zips allowing for height; hems that accommodate a longer stride. Self-styled adaptation of vintage clothing is popular but for professional performers, something more tailored is required. Who are some of the dames, drag artistes and dressmakers involved in this growing sector?
Julian J Smith
Following a post-MA career working on his own fashion label, Julian J Smith began bringing to life the sartorial visions of cabaret, music and performance artists such as Bourgeois & Maurice, Beth Ditto and Jonny Woo. Combining a personal drag history as Jacqui Potato with professional pattern-cutting expertise, Julian developed what he describes as “a good knowledge of shape and vavavoom”. In his Cliftonville studio, he now creates outfits from materials like tissue lamé, netting and PVC with “exactly the right type of needle and foot” to “make an entrance with volume”. He notes how drag is evolving a more “punky, confusing mix of gender tools” - bra worn with moustache, beard with manicured nails - and his work offers an appealing clash of its own: the discipline of tailoring with the freedom of invention. @j.smithstudio
The Margate-based drag act, Janet District Council, owes her unique style to the DIY dressmaking skills of her creator Bob Chicalors: “I’m very lo-fi. I use staples, sometimes safety pins to take things in.” Bob buys female garments in charity shops, particularly those that he says “land differently” on his male body “creating a slight off-ness”. These intentionally ill-fitting clothes form part of Janet’s distinctive ensemble that includes vintage spectacles (minus lenses), ginger wig and beard. To enable a quick stage reveal - the convention of one dress torn off to reveal another Bob uses press-studs and “meticulously hand-sewn Velcro seams”. He prefers synthetic fabrics like velour and those with metallic threads: “They’re so itchy but they look amazing. I’ll suffer for a look.” @bobchicalors
Crystal, drag artiste (from RuPaul’s Drag Race UK) in dress made by Julian J Smith. Photo by Peter Fingleton
▲ Rumours Roller Disco, hosted by Janet District Council (Margate Festival 2019) Photo by Larnen Hawker Outfit: The suit cost 40p from a sale in a charity shop in Blackpool and like most of Janet’s suits they are adapted with shoulder pads made from sponges. The glasses are from a discount store in Chatham, the socks and skates model’s own