Color Me Drag
Los Angeles, CA
Last Friday when I got home from work, I ate Trader Joe’s tamales for dinner and turned on the TV. I didn’t really get off the couch until I had to go to work on Monday. It was a dreary, lonesome weekend, solitary by circumstance—I’m not the kind of person who cherishes alone time. I get plenty of alone time.
Anyway, not to wallow or anything, but I spent the whole weekend watching RuPaul’s Drag Race with an open jar of hummus and too many bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. I blitzed through two seasons and a few bottles of wine, and I found myself saying, “Ooh girl” and “Shantay, you stay” to no one in particular. RuPaul has one of those voices that begs to be imitated. There’s a ripe, waxy cadence that sounds like it’d be delicious to reproduce.
Work sucked all week, but while I was puttering around on the internet, I stumbled across reviews for Color Me Drag, just a couple miles from my apartment. If you haven’t heard of this place before, think of it as a cross between a Color Me Mine and a MAC store. There are always four to five drag queens on staff, and you can walk in and get a drag makeover, complete with wig, costume, and a photo shoot at the end. It’s marketed towards gay men, mostly couples, but anyone is welcome. You just have to be twenty-one for the martinis, one of which comes complimentary with any full makeover.
After another gloomy Friday night, when all my friends were hanging out with other friends and significant others, I decided to buy myself a pick-me-up and headed over to Color Me Drag. I loved it the minute I walked in. The décor was bordello light, with chandeliers and furniture upholstered in rich, wine-colored fabric. The walls held portraits of glamorous women, old Hollywood actresses and famous drag queens, as well as many faces I didn’t recognize, some of which I couldn’t place as biologically male or female.
A small, beautiful drag queen welcomed me and introduced herself as Nina California. She had on a bright, tight, silvery dress and a brunette wig big enough to lose a cat in. She laughed and said, “Girl, you look like a real woman. Are you sure you don’t want Sephora?” She had a mild accent—turns out she was born in LA but lived in Mexico for most of her childhood.
I explained that I wanted the whole transformative experience, which I never got with my bland palette of makeup. I wanted to sit back in a chair and watch my face get painted an inch thick, with false eyelashes fluttering past my nose. The promise of grandness and glamor flickered behind my dour image in the mirror. I knew what these ladies could do.
Nina pinned back my hair and applied a layer of foundation with a dense sponge. She built me a new skin in several stages, each one showing the contours of a new theatrical mask. She powdered and sketched and labored away, studying my eyes or lips with professional intensity, stepping back with a smile or a squeal. She asked if I had big plans for the weekend, and I told her that hummus made a great dip for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. She laughed at that, so I laughed with her.
The whole process took over an hour, and we talked and giggled and drank martinis until I felt lighter in the heart. We bonded over boy troubles and RuPaul’s Drag Race—turns out one of her exes dumped her for Sharon Needles! I guess it’s a small world.
By the time we were finished, I was wearing a blond wig the size of my torso and a sequined evening gown with a padded butt—it must have weighed thirty pounds. I looked fantastic, and barely recognizable. Nina took pictures and ordered me around until I gave her a couple decent poses, hips cocked, hands attentive.
She said, “Girl, you look like a drag queen. I hope you know that’s a compliment.” I told her I did, and that I’d see her again next week.
Steph Cha is the author of Follow Her Home, a feminist hardboiled detective novel. She lives in Los Angeles and mothers a basset hound.