RuPaul Vs. Retailers: Why Off-the-Rack Looks Are Roasted on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

Samantha Agate
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RuPaul has one serious enemy and it might not be who you think. After 13 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race and a plethora of spin-off shows, the bar has been set very high for the contestants. Each season, the judges get way harsher on the contestants about their outfits. RuPaul has been very vocal about disliking when a queen wears a look that was bought off the rack from a popular retailer.


RuPaul Comes After Retail Chains on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K.’

There is a huge financial burden going onto RuPaul’s Drag Race. The queens put thousands of dollars into their runway looks. Most contestants bring custom-made looks with them to try and wow the judges. Others make their own looks but still have to spend a lot on things like fabrics and feathers.

Once you factor in all of the accessories, wigs, makeup, pads, and heels, it adds up to a fortune. The $100,000 prize is bittersweet because the queens are first making back some of the money they initially spent to prepare for the competition. It makes sense why some queens reach for pieces that are straight off the rack to wear on the show. If only RuPaul felt the same way about ready-to-wear pieces.

The most famous scene of RuPaul coming after a queen for a retail runway look happened in the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. The queens performed a challenge inspired by Eurovision. Joe Black wore a pink dress that Michelle Visage said could have been “bought off the rack at Primark.” The look actually came from H&M.


The problem with Joe’s look wasn’t the fact that the dress was from H&M. The problem was that Joe did not do anything to elevate that dress. If rhinestones, ribbons, slits, or other minor details were added to the dress, it may have been a different outcome on the runway. The way RuPaul tried to express this came off as insensitive.

“That outfit off the rack was a huge disappointment to me,” RuPaul said. “That’s what everyday people do, and you should know that because you are a star. This goes to all of you up here: if it is from H&M then you better glitter the f*ck out of it and make it something special. We’re looking for Great Britain’s Next Superstar, don’t waste my time. I don’t wanna see any f*cking H&M.”

The Show Sparked a Debate About Contestants Wearing Off-the-Rack Pieces

RuPaul’s outburst gained a ton of social media attention. Fans were confused by her comments because the contestants had a conversation in the workroom about how the pandemic has been so hard on them financially. Production was forced to take a seven-moth break in between episodes. Joe, who had been eliminated once, returned to the competition after Veronica Green tested positive for COVID-19.


Joe admitted during an interview to selling most of his runway looks intended for the show in order to support himself during the pandemic. In an episode of Attitude Tea Time, Joe called RuPaul’s reaction “very dramatic.”

“I mean, I’ve never seen pink velvet evoke such a strong emotion in someone before,” Joe said. “I do not know what H&M have done to RuPaul, but he was not happy.”

Contestant Asttina Mandella wore an ASOS jacket during the same season. The other queens in the competition ripped her apart for this look. Cheryl Hole, who finished in fourth place during the first season, also admitted on Twitter that most of her wardrobe was bought from retail stores.

“Thank god Ru didn’t know half my wardrobe was H&M when I was there #DragRaceUK,” she said.

Should Contestants Wear Clothes From Retail Chains?

To compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, contestants need over 20 outfits that are based on specific categories. They only have a couple of weeks to prepare before filming starts. Some queens do not have the finances to purchase extravagant outfits. Heidi N Closet only had 33 cents to her name on the first day of filming. She was one of the queens that was always criticized for her unpolished looks.

And of course, fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race know that the worst thing a queen can do is wear a leotard on the show. Visage is very critical of those who wear leotards on the runway. She will call out anyone who dons a plain bodysuit like LaLa Ri or Monet X Change. It is a risky thing to wear if you know the judges won’t love it.

Naomi Smalls admitted to buying 10 lace-fronts from Amazon before coming onto Season 8. Most recently on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 6, Pandora Boxx wore a blazer from Amazon during Snatch Game. The only difference with Pandora’s look is that she didn’t care about buying it online. Pandora was sent home after this challenge.

“It’s from Amazon and I don’t care because it looks good,” she said. “It’s a pandemic and you’re going to have to cut costs somewhere and it was perfect. Like why have somebody make it when I literally was like order and next day delivery and it was here and it looked perfect? Shush your mouth, don’t judge me.”

The point that RuPaul and Visage are always trying to make is that it’s not about money. It’s about what you decide to do with that dress from the store. Whether it’s adding glitter, rhinestones, feathers, or taking scissors to it, something can be done to make a look fit a person’s style more. They want to see effort and creativity and not a dress that anyone can pull out of their closet.

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