I’m sure I’m not the first person to describe Divine as a force of nature and I definitely won’t be the last, but she was just that. You are smacked in the face with her look, her charisma; her very presence omits energy, it’s explosive, so it's only right that her aesthetic would match her overflowing magnetism.
Many of those not so familiar with Divine probably aren’t aware of her aesthetic legacy, particularly on contemporary drag. I guess to acknowledge it would be to acknowledge that drag would not be the same if Divine were alive; it would certainly make it much harder to produce for mass consumption (referring to of course RuPaul’s drag). I mean I love Drag Race, but drag would be a different beast with Divine still at play. An aesthetic outlaw, she was about beauty and anti-beauty, a combination that should be so wrong but is in fact wonderfully right. Her look was so iconic it even served as inspiration for, in my opinion the best Disney character, Ursula (the Sea Witch to give her full title).
A master class in bad taste, more specifically intentional bad taste, which at its root is a political statement - a love letter to the outsider, and there is no more of an outsider than a 300 hundred pound man with eyebrows painted so high on his forehead that half of his hair is shaved off from the front, wearing a skin tight dress, and screaming about not getting their cha cha heels, but that is Divine.
When people think Divine, they probably first think about eating dog poo, then they think makeup - more specifically, eyes. Her eye makeup was in fact so infamous that Kat Von D’s makeup line recently released its ‘I am Divine’ collection, consisting of a lipstick and the feature item, the eyeshadow palette. The eyeshadow palette clearly draws its main inspiration from Divine’s most extreme eye look from cult classic Pink flamingos.
The brows are sharper and higher on the head than ever and that blue eyeshadow is painted on her forehead giving her that iconic Divine beat. You only have to look at contemporary drag queens like Trixie Mattel and Kim Chi to see the influence her makeup had. Like everything about Divine it was original, unapologetic and iconic. From the over drawn lip line, to the mole, to the winged black eyeliner, all pulling her face up and into a sharper instrument - one perfect for filth.
The most infamous hair style of Divine had to be the look from Pink Flamingoes - her most copied look. The backcombed bouffant was bright and big with harsh black roots, but the real attention grabber was the front hairline: it was intentionally shaved extremely far back.
Cosmetician Van Smith originally created the hairstyle for the look. In order to create the infamous eye makeup and eyebrows it was decided to create as much landscape as possible, so the hairline was taken further and further back. As iconic as Divine was with hair, she looked amazing with no hair, yes before Sasha Velour was a queen rocking her natural bald head, Divine was doing it, serving some Little Edie realness with her bald head and scarf pulled back to accommodate those eyebrows.
So body positivity is a heavily discussed topic of late, but in Divine’s time it really wasn’t. It wasn’t common to see a plus size girl wear tight, revealing and sexy clothes, but that’s exactly what she did, every street was her catwalk, every place her stage and she strutted with confidence oozing from every pore.
She was the trash supermodel of the world who always unapologetically embraced her body. Even now we don’t really see a plus size person being the star, the centre of attention, but that’s what Divine was. She was larger than life - literally. Her clothes were tight and bright, not trying to hide any lumps or bumps but rather celebrate them. It had to be Pink Flamingos, her breakout role, that made her the star she was meant to be. The red mermaid tail dress it was loud, it was tight, it was sexy, it was Divine.
It goes without saying that Divine had attitude, but it's the attitude that makes it. You can paint the mug, you can wear the dress – hell, you can even eat the dog poo - but without the attitude, you’re just a person eating shit, literally. Her energy was powerful and attitude overflowing.
A force of nature, she was a star. For those that know the real story, it wasn’t Harris Glenn Milstead’s (the man behind Divine) goal to become this person. I’m not even sure he knew what he created. It speaks to his talent as an actor and an artist to channel this attitude, and while he has sadly passed away, Divine’s legacy will last forever.
Cover image courtesy of Divine Official