The best self-made Drag Race ball looks in herstory

Utica in the RuPaul's Drag Race runway ball design challenge

The RuPaul’s Drag Race ball is one of just a few challenges to have appeared in almost every season of the show.

That’s because it offers the queens a multitude of opportunities to test their skills: it’s a chance to show off their fashion sense, creativity, resourcefulness, attitude on the runway and their taste.

And for Drag Race fans, it’s become one of the leading challenges in determining which queens will go far in the competition.

The best bit of every ball challenge, though, is seeing what the queens can scrape together with a few bits of fabric and some unconventional materials. Is it possible to make a couture gown out of swimming pools, sleeping bags and tent poles? Apparently so.

We’ve taken a look back at 16 of the best ball looks ever from all series – but only considered the looks the queens made themselves.

16. Widow Von’Du (RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12)

With this look, Widow Von’Du managed to create a sort-of gown that Alexander McQueen would have thought up had he been looking for inspiration at the local Pets at Home.

It had flaws, sure – the undergarments and shoes – and Gigi Goode and Jaida Essence Hall still performed best in the season 13 ball overall. But Von’Du deserves some respect for crafting a look unlike any that had come before. 

15. Alexis Mateo (All Stars 5)

Thanks to the bizarre All Stars 5 rules, Alexis Mateo actually ended up being eliminated during the season’s ball challenge.

And yes, her constructed look – made from fabric, plastic party cups and a child’s paddling pool (!) – wasn’t flawless, but it was a display of audacious craftsmanship that deserves some recognition.

14. Shea Couleé (season nine)

Shea Couleé is one of just a few queens in Drag Race history who has had the pleasure of taking on not one, not two, but three ball challenges. You could say then, that Couleé knows how to handle her balls.

However, out of the three, she’s only won once, during the season nine “Gayest Ball Ever”. Arguably, it was her design look in the “Village People Eleganza Extravaganza” category that clinched the win because, frankly, she reminded us of Bob the Builder.

Shea Couleé in the season 9 drag race ball.
(Hard) hats off to Shea Couleé for winning the season nine ball challenge. (YouTube/RuPaul’sDragRace)

With a train made out of denim and plaid, a tilted construction helmet and knee-high Timberland-style boots, Couleé built herself quite a reputation.

13. Pangina Heals (RuPaul’s Drag Race UK vs the World season one)

Look, it’s common knowledge that Drag Race Thailand judge Pangina Heals was robbed during her entire time on Drag Race UK vs The World season one, but we’d like to make a specific case that she was mugged during the ball challenge especially.

First, her “Kitty Girl” couture was arguably the best look of the entire season, while her constructed “You Wear It Well” garment was fashion week runway ready. From her tasselled head piece down to her glittery pumped toes, Pangina fully understood the assignment.

12. Sasha Colby (RuPaul’s Drag Race season 15)

Now, this may simply be because Sasha Colby could wear Rita Ora’s Primark collection and still look like an ethereal goddess ready for Paris Fashion Week, but the trans legend really sold it with her ball look on season 15. After all, that’s why she won.

We’re not too sure what the need was for the bits of material poking out from her arms, but the gem-encrusted torso piece alone was enough to make this a massive toot. Sasha, we salute you.

11. Scarlet Envy (All Stars 6)

Sometimes, things are very, very wrong. The All Stars 6 “Blue Ball” was one of those instances. While Ra’Jah O’Hara was a worthy winner and Kylie Sonique Love deserved the praise she got, it was sad to see Scarlet Envy – currently serving international excellence on Drag Race UK vs The World season two – snubbed.

Her glittering, navy fishtail gown in the “Blue Ball Bonanza” category was simply one of the most expertly constructed looks to hit the runway, and she made it appear effortless.

10. Naomi Smalls (RuPaul’s Drag Race season eight)

Perhaps a controversial choice, considering it was Kim Chi’s floral frock that snatched the win in season eight. But what queen can say that her looks have inspired Mama Ru herself, other tthan Naomi Smalls.

Naomi Smalls wears a paper dress in the ball of season 8.
Naomi Smalls left a paper trail in season eight. (YouTube/RuPaul’s Drag Race)

In her original season, she impressed the judges with her crumpled paper couture, so much so that for the season nine promotional image, RuPaul appeared to wear a fabric replica of it.

9. Krystal Versace (RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season three)

Another potentially contentious choice, because Drag Race UK season three’s eventual champ Krystal Versace didn’t win the ball challenge, losing out to Scarlett Harlett. But her spiky, plaid “Campfire Couture” look was sleek, simple, extra-terrestrial eleganza.

Not to mention, it appeared impeccably well-made considering it was constructed from tent poles and camping quilts.

8. Violet Chachki (RuPaul’s Drag Race season seven)

There are few looks across the Drag Race universe that have displayed such a strong understanding of fashion sense quite as much as Violet Chachki’s “Hello Kitty Eleganza” outfit did.

In reality, it was a fairly simple bodysuit look, but the way Violet embellished it and stamped it with her signature style – from the fluffy face cage, down to the simple tight and pump combo – was perfection.

It was somehow a mix of Sixties space age and contemporary couture, but Chachki knew exactly what she set out to deliver.

7. Jaida Essence Hall (RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12 and All Stars 7)

Jaida Essence Hall gets a little bump here for having had not one, but two flawless design looks in her ball challenges, in season 12 and All Stars 7.

First, her bubble-bath look, made out of plastic and polystyrene balls, was genius, and the added glittering turban brought storyline. She wasn’t a woman having a bath, she was a luxurious lady of the manor having a soak in her solid gold bathtub.

But it was Jaida’s Hawaiian Black Sand Beach construction on All stars 7 that truly gets her a mention in this list.

Her look was somewhere between dark lady dominatrix and sexy goth, and, as RuPaul declared: “It’s really, really gorgeous.” No wonder she took the win that week.

6. Roxxxy Andrews (RuPaul’s Drag Race season five)

With her “Candy Couture” look on season five’s “Sugar Ball”, Roxxxy Andrews made a startlingly strong case for turning Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory into a gay club. Making a fringe rainbow dress out of candy laces? Give her the golden ticket right now.

In all seriousness though, Roxxxy proved she is incredibly fashion smart with this look, not that she needed to. She knew how the laces would sway around her as she stomped the runway. Throw in a voluminous pageant wig and some jewellery made of sweets, and she was ready for the win (until Alaska bagged it).

5. Raja (RuPaul’s Drag Race season three and All Stars 7)

Few queens have changed the Drag Race game like Raja did during her original run on season three. While the season one and two queens had a fair share of solid looks, Raja turned the runway into a critical part of the judges’ criteria for success, and an essential part of the show’s enjoyment for fans.

Never more did her creative flare for fashion shine through than on season three’s two ball challenges, where she created a garment out of hair and, most impressively, a gown out of dollar bills.

But her best came more than a decade later, on All Stars 7, with her Myanmar Golden Pagoda get-up.

With gorgeous, golden accentuated sleeves, a shimmering skirt and finite details to match – the opera glasses were a particular gag – she looked something between a member of the royal family and a Hunger Games escort. Simply stellar.

4. Trinity The Tuck (All Stars 7)

There are design runways that look incredible, but it’s obvious that they’ve been made against a time limit with scraps of fabric. Then there are those that, despite being made in the werkroom, look like they were created by experts over several weeks.

Trinity The Tuck’s Red Square of Moscow look for All Stars 7 is one of the latter. In the latex, devil-red fishtail gown, she managed to look like a futuristic mistress and a sexy superhero all in one, while her staggering red wig was definitely 40 inches.

3. Anetra (RuPaul’s Drag Race season 15)

Season 15 star Anetra might best be known for walking that f**king duck, but let’s give her some respect for her design look in the ball challenge, which frankly looked Met Gala-ready.

The champagne-coloured gown was gorgeous enough as it was, but the addition of glass-like shards along the arms and plunging neckline elevated it to expert level. She looked regal and rich, and she knew it.

2. Nymphia Wind (RuPaul’s Drag Race season 16)

The most recent winner of the Drag Race ball challenge, and instantly one of the best, Nymphia Wind constructed a three-dimensional look using office ties, and managed to make it look as though it had been stripped straight from the pages of Vogue.

It was fun and fresh, but also sleek and perfectly executed. She rightfully won the challenge, with Michelle Visage describing it as “otherworldly” and RuPaul declaring it “frig*ing brilliant”. This look would be justification enough for Nymphia to win the season 16 crown.

1. Utica Queen (RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13)

Three years on from Utica’s sleeping-bag look appearing on our TV screens, it still renders the Drag Race fandom gagged every time they’re reminded of its existence.

Given the task of making an outfit out of bags, Utica wasn’t satisfied with settling for simplicity. Of all the available materials, she selected a sleeping bag and whipped it into a theatrical, Moncler-style gown, complete with a hood and billowing train.

When she stepped out on the runway, it had the professional finish of a dress curated by a team over several months, but it took her just six hours to make on her own.

Shockingly, Utica didn’t win the ball challenge for this look alone, and had to settle with being the week’s runner up. It remains one of the main Drag Race judging decisions that still riles the fandom to this day.