This year’s Met Gala was a huge step in queer representation in the media. The theme, “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” was the first explicitly queer theme since the gala first began- which definitely serves as a minor victory in my book. From Zendaya’s Cinderella-inspired ball gown to Katy Perry’s hamburger dress, it’s safe to say the attendees enjoyed playing dress up.
Amidst the exaggerated fashion at the gala, my eyes were drawn to Lena Waithe’s baby blue suit. In black writing on the back on the suit were the words “Black women inventend camp,” (the misspelling was intentional from Waithe herself). American society has taken a liking to stealing ideas from marginalized groups, so Lena Waithe’s message came as no surprise to me. But after falling into a rabbit hole of articles and blog posts, the same question still stood: What IS camp?
Camp originated in the 1700s.The term derives from the French term “se camper” which means “to pose in an exaggerated fashion,” and is rooted in the idea of eliminating the seriousness and structure from the world. Beginning in the queer scene hundreds of years ago, it’s now everywhere-but only if you know how to look for it.
Camp is subjective, and it’s all around us. In her 1964 essay titled “Notes On Camp,” Susan Sontag defined camp in about 60 different ways, my favorite being “the love of the exaggerated, the ‘off,’ of things-being-what-they-are-not.”
Will we ever be able to truly define camp? Probably not, but that’s the beauty of it. And when it comes to smashing societal standards in the fashion realm, drag queens are the ones to look to. When they dress up, drag queens become someone completely from themselves, executing camp’s true purpose. From bold cat eyes to extravagant gowns, they definitely know how to make a statement. Here are six drag queens who are so camp in the most extra way.
Sasha Velour lives and breathes camp in every sense of the word. The patterned jumpsuit clashes with the pink contour on her cheekbones in the most perfect way. Her pattern tux is giving me the complete opposite of “business” when paired with her vibrant blue wig. Sasha Velour came to smash every fashion norm out there, and I’m loving every second of it.
Paying homage to Lady Gaga, Shangela rocked a metallic sea urchin style dress on the most recent season of Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars. It’s camp all in itself, but the exaggerated ponytail made from braiding hair makes the look that much better. I love how Shangela’s face art provides symmetry in contrast to her abstract dress. Camp erases the functionality in clothing and takes fashion to unheard levels.
My 10 year old pre-dance recital self would be in awe of these donut buns. Lady Bunny’s been in the game for over three decades---and she’s not stopping anytime soon. Just like her Cubism- inspired look, camp is fluid, and it lives in society today just as strongly as it did in the 20th century.
Raja covered all things gold in this beautiful shoot. Each piece of this look stands out in the most eye-catching way: from the intricate headpiece all the way to her exaggerated nails. As an America's Next Top Model makeup artist for nine cycles, Raja definitely knows how to throw away conventionality and create something unique and gorgeous.
Rather than simply pose with a bath bomb, KimChi *became* a bath bomb. In her shoot with Lush Cosmetics, KimChi reigned supreme in a crown of Christmas ornaments. She blended five different patterns and over six textures in this look, but it somehow still looks amazing (I expected nothing less).
This wouldn’t be a piece on drag without including the queen, RuPaul. The warm, earth toned dreads are my favorite part of his look. Hairstyles like dreads and braids are such an important part of black culture, yet they're often portrayed poorly in the media.. RuPaul perfectly embodied camp in a bedazzled Victorian-inspired gown while providing the representation young black children desperately need.
Without queer, there is no camp. Camp is all about finding the light in the darkness; reclaiming what was lost at the hands of oppression. Each and every one of the drag queens listed above has worked relentlessly to get where they are today; while advocating for the LGBTQ along the way. They’re all so different, yet each one of them are camp. Camp is anything that strays away from what is normal, from what may not be generally accepted. Camp is queer, camp is vibrance, camp is fearlessness, and it’s in us all.