Shea Couleé on Breaking Fashion Rules and the Style Moments That Live Rent Free in Her Head
In today’s world, what’s old is new again. Between fashion nostalgia and the mainstreaming of vintage hauls, more and more, we’re looking to years past for inspiration. And why shouldn’t we? Sometimes the answer isn’t buying new clothes, it’s working with what you’ve got. With This Old Thing?, we’re bringing you all the fashionable details, red carpet memories, and styling tips you’ll ever need—straight from the celebs you love.
If you aren’t familiar with RuPaul’s Drag Race, perhaps the best way I can describe Shea Couleé–season nine runner-up, winner of All Stars season 5, and finalist during the All-Winners All Stars season–would be “What if Naomi Campbell and Iman had a baby, and she happened to have a voice like Luther Vandross and impeccable seamstress skills?”
If you are familiar with Drag Race, it’s safe to say she needs no introduction. A veritable quadruple threat (not every queen can sew a runway-ready garment and drop it on the dancefloor with equal aplomb), Couleé is one of the franchise’s breakout stars. And now, with her new series It’s Giving Fashion, she’s adding podcasting to her resume. Co-hosted by her best friend Tiger Lilly, It’s Giving Fashion covers, as the title suggests, all things fashion–alongside commentary about pop culture, celebrity news, and social media, among many other topics. “It’s just a fun conversation between two silly friends,” says Couleé.
And that’s far from her only 2023 project: Her debut album, 8, dropped on February 24th, and she’ll be opening for Betty Who on tour through the spring. “The year is looking full and fun and bountiful,” she says. “I’m sure I’ll find some time to get a vacation in there somewhere.”
Ahead of her album release, I got a chance to chat with Coulee about Drag Race, personal style, and the dynamic duos whose fashion collabs are giving her life. Read on for our conversation.
The Outfit She Feels Best In
My oversized, gigantic Christopher John Rodgers multicolored striped sweater dress sweater… I don’t even know what you call it! But it’s so comfortable; it’s like a hug. It is great for many different climates, and though you are very comfortable, you’re incredibly chic. I always turn heads in that.
How She’d Describe Her Personal Style in Three Words
Fun, disarming, and gender-bending.
The Pop Culture Style Moments That Live in Her Head Rent-Free
The first one that comes up—cause we’re going rapid-fire here—would definitely have to be the Lady Gaga meat dress at the VMAs. Talk about turning things on their head! And most recently, Doja Cat’s red crystal look at the Schiaparelli show during Paris Couture Fashion Week. I loved that! I was like, “How early did she have to get up in the morning to get ready?” I feel like there was a moment where we were almost turning into fashion robots–everyone was reflecting this similar utilitarian nude, beige kind of style. Then all of a sudden, everyone was like “Wait, whatever happened to personal style? Let’s bring that back. Let’s bring unique, exuberant, fun, clever, and creative back.” And I’m so excited we’re seeing that reflected in fashion right now.
The First Piece She Splurged On
It was 2018, Christmas Eve: A midnight blue velvet Giuseppe Zanotti motorcycle jacket with gold hardware.
The Drag Race Looks She’s Most Proud Of—and the One She’d Do Over
One that I’d re-do would be my spiked runway from All Stars 7. That one was a challenge; I think it was lost in translation. I had communicated spikes, but I’m not sure that the translation app I used for the designer translated that! So it was just a series of points, which is not the same as spikes. My favorite would have to be my Valentino Haute Couture “Crowned Queens” look–that one was really special. That whole process, working with the team, they’re all so sweet and so kind and really made me feel like a queen. I had literally just met Naomi Campbell the day before, and I was like “This is what dreams are made of.”
The Best Piece of Styling Advice She’s Ever Received
To always, no matter what—even if it’s really grand—make it look effortless. And sometimes I’ll be wearing some thangs. But it’s all about the way you carry it. It’s along the principle “Wear the clothes, don’t let the clothes wear you.”
The One Fashion Rule She Says to Break
I don’t pay attention to other people’s rules! Break them all. There’s no specific playbook that works well for everyone; Each individual is unique. So for me, I don’t know girl… white after Labor Day? Wear white all year round if you want to. Baby, my toes are white all year long.
The (Many) Style Icons She Admires
Bob Mackie—love! Also, style-wise, love Rihanna, love Gaga, Doja, and Naomi Campbell–she should have been first. André Leon Talley. I love Kollin Carter as a stylist; everything he does with Cardi is just amazing. And Zendaya, Jesus Christ! The things she and Law Roach put together—that’s a dynamic duo. I am never disappointed. And my Aquarius sister and queen, Megan Thee Stallion. She wears some looks, and she looks good in everything.
The One Trend That Grew on Her
Fuzzy bucket hats. When they were really popular in the late ‘90s-early ‘00s, I didn’t really vibe with them. When they started coming back I was hesitant, but then I was like “… I actually think these are really cute.”