Latinas in Los Angeles
“Dramatic as fuck” is how Sailor Gonzales describes her style.
Gonzales, 20, is a double major in fashion design and Chicano studies who works at a roller-skate shop in Long Beach, California, but grew up in the Wilmington section of Los Angeles. “I love the stuff my mom used to be into in high school,” she recently told Vogue. “I love the dramatic cholita eye makeup that my tías and mom used to wear. I find comfort when people feel nostalgic when they see my outfit.”
Across the Southwest and especially in L.A., retro references have long been a vital element of Latina style. But throwback looks are not merely data points in fashion’s larger recycling of eras, cuts, and proportions. “A lot of young Chicanos want to connect to their history,” explained John Carlos De Luna, a vintage clothing dealer and the owner of Barrio Dandy Vintage, a showroom in Boyle Heights. “Inherently they’re connecting to an America that didn’t really accept them, an America that looked down on them. There’s such power in that— to own that history.”
The Chicano style vernacular begins with the pachuco subculture of the 1930s and 1940s, said De Luna, the tapered trousers and pompadours of the zoot-suit era: “This is the inception of our identity.” Not coincidentally, during this period there was also overt persecution of Mexican-Americans in L.A., who were targeted in the series of racist attacks known as the Zoot Suit Riots. Beginning here, a shared narrative is maintained and retold through fashion.
Young women today make allusions to the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, another tumultuous time for the Latino community in L.A., when gang violence derailed and cut short the lives of many. “They are referencing mass incarceration,” De Luna said of the ’90s revival. “They are saying, in effect, ‘I don’t want to be a number.’ ” It’s an era that Dorys Araniva, 37, a designer of Salvadoran descent, lived through and makes a point to keep alive. “My style is really in tune with my culture and my upbringing,” Araniva said. “The early ’90s in Los Angeles were so raw and so beautiful. They continue to haunt me in a really good and precious way.”
Whatever the period, retro references are an assertion of pride and act of hope, De Luna said. “We go back in time to let new generations know: ‘We existed. We were here.’ ”
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