Rare vintage photographs of drag queens

“Queens,” or men who defy gender norms and dress as women, have always been present in the LGBTQ community and pop culture: Straight men like Flip Wilson and Milton Berle used them as punch lines in their humor; Divine created a media sensation when she burst onto the scene; and RuPaul began to break down barriers with her mainstream pop hit, “Supermodel (Of the World),” and a cheeky VH1 talk show.

Late 1800s: The etymology of the phrase “drag queen” is debatable, but many scholars believe that the phrase was coined in the 1800s as a reference to the hoop skirt. As seen in this photo, hoop skirts would “drag” along the ground.

Drag was perfectly acceptable as a theatrical device. In fact, it was still more respectable for a man to play a woman in drag (such as these three Yale students) than for a woman to pursue a career as an actress.


1920’s: Vander Clyde, or “Barbette,” was a vaudevillian sensation. She travelled around the States and Europe with her infamous aerial act, which featured death-defying trapeze stunts in full drag. At the end of her act, she would remove her wig and strike a masculine pose.


1946: When men wore dresses for their own enjoyment, society pushed them to be more conservative.


Tagged with: