Mo’ Korea: The History Of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Hanboks

So, we’re now a few days out after the premiere of a brand new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Unfortunately, the first Ru girl to go home was social media and internet star, Soju. It’s sad because Soju came in with one of the largest followings, thanks to her YouTube web series Shot with Soju and her weekly club event Seoul Train. To add insult to injury, Soju left on a sewing challenge, in which she tried to create a hanbok from a bunch of tulle and a flower pattern fabric.

The hanbok she strutted on the runway wasn’t the best portrayal of Soju’s drag and certainly not the best portrayal of a hanbok on a budget. I might not be Korean, but I know what a good hanbok looks like, and I’m confident in saying that Soju’s garment was not a great hanbok. I think Soju would agree.

However, Soju’s idea to wear a hanbok, traditional Korean dress, was a great move. One of the cool things about drag is that drag artists of color often inject elements of their culture into their artistry. This gives their fans even more exposure to cultures they might not be familiar with. (If you’d like to learn more about the history of hanbok, try these links.) More importantly, the representation these queens provide also gives viewers of color inspiration to hold onto and role models to look up to. These queens help expand the notion of what is possible and what can be accepted and respected. It’s representation that certainly wasn’t available to the drag queens of a certain age themselves when they were coming up.

Soju is adamant about representing Korean culture via her K-pop persona and style, but she’s also intense about representing other elements of Korean culture as well, including the traditionalism of the hanbok. While some might think Soju can’t “sell the garment” based on her tulle hanbok, there’s picture proof of Soju rocking it out in sumptuous hanbok.

Soju also isn’t the first Ru girl to bring the hanbok to the mainstage. Kim Chi has rocked several hanbok during her drag career, as well as on the Drag Race runway. Her most memorable hanbok for me is the all white one she wore as part of the “story of my life” challenge. Kim Chi said she was invoking her mother by wearing the hanbok, showing how she has looked up to her mother since childhood.

Regardless of Soju’s short Drag Race camera time, she has joined a proud and ever-expanding history of Drag Race hanbok.

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