Book Shorts

This well illustrated and wittily written book provides a thorough history of men wearing women’s clothes

Transformation, communication, exaggeration and non-conformity are some of the impulses behind cross-dressing

Lypsinka © Roxanne Lowit

The subtitle of this book claims it to be The Complete Story of drag and, as it mentions everyone who ever donned the dress of the opposite sex from Tiresias to Donald Trump (aka Meryl Street), it is probably entitled to that claim. It answers the questions who, what, when, where and how and takes some stabs at explaining why. It is noticeable, however, that drag (as distinct from transvestitism which has more to do with actual gender identity than with irony) mostly works in one direction (with notable exceptions, of course): men wearing women’s clothes. It divides varieties of drag into discrete stylistic chapters – glamour, art (cue the ubiquitous Grayson Perry), butch (a nod to women), black, historical, comedy (shown here, John Epperson, a.k.a. Lypsinka, “the star of Wigstock”), popstar (androgyny starring David Bowie), movie and radical. The text is sprinkled with high campery (“What’s so compelling about a man in a frock? Nada.”). The book is a ferment of fabulous photos, scintillating spectacles of the most zhooshy queens and simply sumptuous servings of sequinned sisterhood. On a serious note, the author’s proceeds from the sale of this book will be given to the Ali Forney Center, which aims to protect LGBTQ youth from the harms of being homeless.

  • Simon Doonan, Drag: the Complete Story, Laurence King Publishing, 240pp, £30 (hb)