From his office in downtown Juneau, James Hoagland adds a bit more volume and several more layers of hairspray to a Georgia client’s new up-do. It’s the same office where he styles clients from Australia and Denmark.
“I’m suited to working with a non-human medium,” Hoagland said as he lifted a mannequin’s head with a wig he’s been styling for the past hour. He swings the head up and down, giving himself new angles to work from.
Hoagland, a drag queen whose stage name is Gigi Monroe, is a local wig stylist — the only known one in Juneau — but his work sits on heads across the globe.
He’s styled wigs for a former Miss Gay America, and other professional drag queens on the national scene. When Clay Smith, a professional drag queen based out of New York City, performed as Delighted Tobehere during season 10 of America’s Got Talent, a tall dark wig styled by Hoagland shined in the spotlight.
“It really does make a world of difference when you look at a queen,” said Smith, who met Hoagland when he entered the drag scene down in Georgia. “A good wig makes all the difference.”
Earlier in his drag career, Smith added he had to “fake it to make it — or just have James make it.”
“I am a better person because of our friendship and the hair,” Smith said of Hoagland. “I don’t say that lightly.”
For Hoagland, styling wigs was something he began doing out of necessity to perform as Monroe in drag shows in his home state of Georgia. In the drag world, bigger is better, and statement pieces are a must to win over the audience.
“I didn’t know what I was doing for a long time,” Hoagland said. “I was doing my own hair but not good. For me, drag was all about learning from the people around me.”
After years of practicing the craft in Georgia and then on the drag circuit in the deep south, Hoagland moved on to the Norwegian Pearl cruise ship. A decade later and Hoagland had drag down.
Less than two years ago, Hoagland decided to make a home in Juneau with his now-husband; they got married two months ago. It just worked out that he found a part-time job, apart from the wig styling, with the Alaskan Aids Assistance Association, an organization that happens to host an annual drag show called Femme Fatal. He introduced Gigi Monroe to the capital city — and developed a whole host of new clients vying for towering up-do’s teased to perfection in the process.
“For a long time there was only one (drag show) a year,” Hoagland said. “But I think our community can definitely handle at least a few a year.”
Since living in Juneau, Hoagland has been part of two Femme Fatal productions, drag entertainment shows for gay cruise ship arrivals. Most recently, he produced ‘Twas the Drag Before Christmas at Rendezvous, a show featuring seven local drag queens and two drag kings. The scene — and a demand for wigs — in Alaska’s capital city is growing, Hoagland said. He’s here to teach along the way.
“I feel a responsibility to offer these people who want to do it an outlet,” Hoagland said.
With an experienced drag queen in town who also knows how to make a wig 3 feet taller with a blow dryer, the opportunity to learn has arrived.
Juneau resident Nic DeHart said he’s experienced the drag world in small doses since high school, but it wasn’t until about a year and a half ago — roughly around the time that Hoagland came onto the scene — that he really got involved.
“I had done drag bingo at the Rendezvous, but there wasn’t enough demand to make it a worthwhile show,” DeHart said. “Then James moved to town.”
The road to more drag shows in Juneau, though, has its obstacles. There isn’t a single gay bar in town, which is the norm for larger cities and especially state capitals.
There’s also general barriers for the greater Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community at large, which Hoagland said is pronounced elsewhere, as evidenced by stories from some of his international customers.
“That’s always a little surprising to me — maybe I take it for granted that (styled wigs for drag queens is) more accessible here in the United States,” he said. “I get orders from the (United Kingdom), Denmark, Belgium and Singapore. It’s actually illegal to do drag (in Singapore) because it’s illegal to be gay. It’s more of a formality — it’s not like they’re being raided, but technically I guess they could, if somebody wanted to.”
Making wigs for drag kings and queens around the world is a way Hoagland said he gets to feel like he’s still part of the professional circuit.
Although 99 percent of his client base is drag-centered, he also styles wigs upon request for other occasions. He’s styled wigs several times for Perseverance Theatre performers and for others wanting the perfect finishing touch for their costumes.
Inside his office, Hoagland finished the wig for his Georgia client and began a Dolly Parton-inspired one for Gigi Monroe.
The success Hoagland’s found so far has inspired him to move past the online-only retail business and possibly open a full wig shop in town. He’s hopeful that if he builds it, they will wear it.
“There’s been no stopping me,” Hoagland said.