A Look Inside the Fascinating History of Glitter and Gay Culture

Ever since Claire’s and Limited Too loomed large in many a late-’90s preteen vision board, wearable sparkle—usually in the form of body glitter, glitter makeup, and glitter body spray—has been a source of personal euphoria for many millennials. Glitter makeup, for me at least, was the stuff of fantasy and boundary-crossing—it was a way of straddling the line between prepubescent and full-blown teenager.

I thought my love of body glitter and sparkly makeup would fade in favor of nude lips and classic looks as I got older, yet wearable glitter remained magical for me, carrying with it a sort of witchcraft, a kind of breathless ecstasy. I soon realized that I wasn’t alone: As a young adult, I began to identify as a queer femme, and after attending my first pride parade at 19 (and participating in queer nightlife a couple years later), I noticed that glitter was a beauty staple for performers and participants alike.

Glitter makeup, though too often culturally relegated to juvenilia and special occasions, has an important place in queer history. Glitter is intimately tied to the long legacy of queer nightlife and performance art, including the intersecting worlds of drag, burlesque, and cabaret. As glitter makes its way into our bedsheets and onto our carpets, it also makes its way across generations, connecting queer folks to other communities and to our predecessors.

Today, glitter makeup still goes far beyond whimsy for queer folks who defy or transcend sexual and gender norms. In fact, for many, it’s an integral piece of gender presentation and queer identity. Just as religious symbols (like a cross or a Star of David) signal community and connection, wearing glitter is a way to signal our queer identities not only to ourselves but also to each other.