Lights, camera… feathers! Have you ever thought about why you buy the clothes you wear? Have you thought about what they say about you? What do those clothes convey to the world? What impact do they have on the story you are telling about yourself to others? How does Drag and Wrestling come into it?
In my last article I discussed how Drag and Wrestling are different sides of the same coin, they use the same storytelling, over-the-top performances, and pop culture references to build a character that you can love and hate in the same measure. This time we are diving Scrooge McDuck style into the glitter-filled depths of Wrestling.
Fashion and clothes may seem frivolous to some, but what you wear actually has an impact on how you feel, how people view you, and the way you wish to portray yourself to the world. This is especially important in Wrestling, you have between 7 – 30 seconds to make a first impression, to get people to pay attention, and then want to stay and follow you. Even with the best verbal skills or wrestling abilities, you are not going to be able to catch all the attention you want.
This is where costumes come in…
Imagine a 6ft man with blonde hair, he walks straight to the ring wearing a black singlet, no fanfare, no talking – just music and blonde guy walking down the ramp, into the ring.
- Would you pay attention?
- Would you care who this person was?
It has been proven that we don’t. So now let’s add to this 6ft man – let us add fluffy long curls, a tan, and a full-length sequin and feather robe…now that is someone you want to know more about. Why the hair, why this elaborate robe?
You are drawn in by the sparkle, by the glitz, by the story that those pieces of clothing are telling you. You are drawn to Ric Flair but it could equally be Asuka, Ultimate Warrior, Chyna, or even MJF.
What may just seem like a fancy robe to you, is actually a fundamental part of a character built over time. That robe is a statement of who that character is, how they portray themselves, what they stand for, and where the character is going.
This is a basic component of Drag, again it may seem like a man dressed as a woman or a woman dressed as a man. But in reality, it is a complete persona that is built over years, they have specific styles that they prefer, feathers or leather, silhouettes that they feel works for that character, even the wigs bring this person to life.
Now we have the basic idea of how clothes inherently bring a character to life alongside the personality, let us look at the way that a costume can drive a storyline or character arc in wrestling.
We all know that you have Baby Faces and Heels within wrestling, these are an easy binary way to tell the good from the bad within a company. However, something as simple as a design on a t-shirt can indicate a change to a character’s personality, let alone a whole costume change.
Sounding more and more like Drag?
A few examples of how much of an impact costume changes, let us look at Big Boss Man.
BBM had been a staple of WWF for a few years, turning from heel to face in the early 90s. Then in 1995, he turned again (as is needed to drive character stories – but that’s for another day or article), he went from wearing a normal Correctional Officers outfit, consisting of a blue shirt, black trousers, and a truncheon to a Riot Officer, wearing all black, a bulletproof vest and gloves. These showed that the character was dark, broody, and ultimately there for a fight. It made a huge difference in how the audience saw this character and the storylines that they would be involved in.
Another prime example that we have seen recently is Bayley, when we first saw Bayley in NXT she was a baby-faced doe-eyed fangirl, who couldn’t believe that she was living out her dream of being a professional wrestler. She was a fan favourite of all. While she was the face character her outfits were bright and colourful, her hair was childlike and the whole aesthetic could be copied by little girls everywhere.
When Bayley turned heel, the look drastically changed, gone was the long hair, the bright, patterned outfits, and the cute makeup. Here was a sharp haircut, clean-designed outfit, and a more dramatic look all around, making it very clear just from one look that this woman wasn’t here to hug or be a fangirl anymore.
The ability to show a character’s personality, as well as where their loyalties lie is another aspect of Wrestling that is also at the heart of the pop culture of Drag, something akin to Girl/Boy Groups. This is seen in stables, such as nWo, De-Generation X, and The Four Horsemen, where you can see individual markers of a character while they all still mesh together, like the Spice Girls, BTS, or TLC.
Bullet Club is a primary example of this, a stable that came to life in 2013 with Prince Devitt as the leader. From the get-go, the look was dark and powerful. Even though everyone could be wearing the same t-shirt their personalities were there, through the way the shirts were cut, the hairstyles, and even the accessories. Showing that they were cohesive but still their own individual characters.