Pic courtesy of @veteranas_and_rucas
An Ode to Cholas and Latina Beauty
My Mexican roots and growing up in SoCal are some of my greatest inspirations in the design process for Elidia the Label. One of my more formative influences was the Chola.
For as long as I can remember, some of the most beautiful women to me were Mexican women. My beautiful mother, my glamorous grandmother Elidia (namesake of Elidia the Label), but most of all - the Cholas in East LA and the San Fernando Valley where my parents are from. The lip liner, hoop earrings, scrunched hair and drawn-on eyebrows, I loved it all. Cholas were often looked down on by society as gang members, unwed mothers, troublemakers, etc. Because of the assumed connections between the Chola aesthetic and gang culture, my dad was staunchly against it and wouldn’t let me or my sister resemble the look in any way. He was desperate to “Americanize” us because he felt it would open up more opportunities for us than what a typical Chola had. But a girl can dream, and a girl can also sneak lip liner in her backpack and wear it at school too. #WhatWouldCholasDo
In the end, the type of beauty routine I ascribed to was that of my mother’s. A more natural albeit everyday glam take on beauty. Think Selena Quintanilla’s more everyday looks. Beauty is big in Latina culture, it’s what’s most natural to us. A univision study showed that Latina women spend more money on beauty than any other group of women. I remember watching my mom put on lipstick to go pull weeds in her garden and I never once saw my grandma Elidia without her makeup on until she was literally on her deathbed. Latina women have never felt that beauty and glamour had to be sacrificed in order to appear smart or strong.
“The Chola uniform was born from strife, its own form of protest.”
Beautiful Chola Women courtesy of Pinterest
One thing I loved most about the Chola aesthetic was the style. They were the OG’s of menswear for women. They wore baggy pants cinched with big belts, crop tops under oversized Pendletons and Nike Cortez’s. Then they would glam it up with tons of gold jewelry, a flawlessly done face and perfect hair. There were no compromises, they were both beautiful and badass. They could beat your ass and look beautiful doing it.
I regrettably once dressed up as one for Halloween many years ago, perhaps just wanting to finally see the full look come together on myself. I was always a very timid person and I think I wanted to feel that freedom of looking both beautiful and powerful simultaneously. Either way, it wasn’t right and I’m thankful to know better now.
Truth be told, the Chola lifestyle was not an easy one and no matter how much I wanted to glamorize the look as a little girl, it came with a price. The Chola uniform was born from strife, its own form of protest. It was a “F**** YOU” to the racist culture that was trying to keep them on the fringes of society and the traditional beauty standards of “girly girls”. They wanted to be able to be wives, girlfriends and mothers, they also wanted to be out defending their barrios and proving themselves. It’s hard to understand this from an outside perspective. Only someone raised in the microcosm of violence and poverty exacerbated by racism would understand these choices. When what you’ve got is probably all you’ll ever have, you want to become the master of it. Fighting, partying, making a name for yourself, these become tools for survival.
“Pachucas had a fierce style and fought for their own space”
1930's Pahuca women via Pinterest
As society grew more intrusive and oppressive against the Hispanic community in Los Angeles in the 30’s and 40’s during the Mexican Repatriation, women known as Pachucas used style as a revolutionary tool to set themselves apart as strong individuals who refused to conform to the white american femininity they were being contrasted to. The Pachucas had a fierce style and fought for their own space and freedom in a culture where they felt both trapped by societal rules of womanhood and by a country that was telling brown-skinned individuals they didn't want them there.
California had only recently become a state in 1850. Previously having been a Mexican territory, it housed a large population of Mexicans that had been grandfathered into having U.S. citizenship. Beginning in 1929, these Mexican-Americans were blamed for stealing U.S. citizen jobs and illegal deportations began. Up to 2,000,000 Mexican-Americans were deported, the majority of them being legal U.S. Citizens. They were never asked to prove citizenship. If they looked Mexican and lived in a barrio, they were rounded up and sent away. This idea of singling people out simply for how they look without checking legal status has never completely gone away and has produced deadly outcomes such as the horrific mass shooting at a Wal-Mart in El Paso Texas in 2019.
“Hand-me-downs and cheap clothing for the working class, Cholas took those clothes and made an iconic style out of it that pop stars still emulate today.”
The Chola aesthetic evolved from the Pachucas and was also born from poverty and practicality. Hand-me-downs and cheap clothing for the working class, Cholas took those clothes and made an iconic style out of it that pop stars still emulate today. Subconsciously or not, in many ways, their style is still with me and inspiring me now. I feel the least beautiful in a dress. I feel the most powerful wearing pants and sneakers. I love to translate that into the bags and accessories that I make for Elidia the Label. Each one has an elevated but casual feel, always with a tough edginess to them. The fact that they are carefully handcrafted, made to last and go with everything you already own is an homage to the craft that the women in my family passed down to me. Back then, they didn't call it “fashion design” or “artisan clothing” they called it using what you have or going without. Before fast fashion was a thing, you didn’t have a different bag for each color of shirt you owned, you had one that you used everyday until it wore out. Those with money, bought a new one. Those with skill, made their own.
The poor and neglected communities have always been the most resourceful. If necessity is the mother of invention, then the ghettos are chock full of Benjamin Franklins. My great-grandmother used to get 50lb sacks of flour and oatmeal and make underwear out of the sack for her children once it was empty. Slow fashion at its finest, eco-friendly to the max. The poor and people of color have been doing this for years, yet in recent times, the slow fashion and eco conscious movements have only gained traction when packaged and sold as “exclusive” and “expensive” and has been commercialized as a very upper-middle class soapbox to stand on while the poor are blamed for buying fast fashion and eating individually packaged, processed food.
It seems being a conscious consumer is only fashionable when you have a choice to be one. Perhaps it’s only considered eco-friendly when it’s done “consciously” and otherwise it doesn’t count. I suppose that really boils down to having money and freedom of choice, another American obsession and right that is only offered freely to those with privilege. And since some of the most patriotic people I know are those who have fought for the right to be here and exist even when society tells them otherwise, then I feel like the Cholas and Pachucas that came before us and influenced styles we still love today were really just invoking their own freedoms. How intrinsically American of them…
“The Chola aesthetic is sold by the mainstream while the actual Cholas are looked down upon.”
Gwen Stefani attributed her style to the Cholas she grew up around - Gwen Stefani Luxurous video
Yet, even with all of the judgment against them, the Chola aesthetic is copied and sold by the mainstream as fashion-forward while the actual Cholas are looked down upon. Copping the style without having had to live “La Vida Loca” can often be seen as appropriation and mockery. Straight up, if you’re not willing to not only give props to the style and it’s origins, but also support the lives and wellbeing of the Latina women who gave you the style, then you’re part of the problem.
Latina beauty is uncompromised and the Chola aesthetic is celebrated in pop culture, but what’s most beautiful to me about the women in my culture is their resilience. They truly aren’t given enough credit, often being boiled down to undereducated cooks and maids in the mainstream media. They were in the streets in the 40’s fighting against Mexican Repatriation. They were in the student walkouts in the 60’s fighting for equal education. They were protesting police violence in the 70’s. They are a vital part of today’s workforce (where they are paid less than any other female minority group in the US) and they are in homes raising families. They are the backbone of Latinx culture and they do it all with beauty and strength.
Photo by Luis C. Garza via artnews.com
It truly is my passion to connect with my customers/readers on a deeper level and share the things that inspire me and my creative process for Elidia the Label. To read more and receive future updates on my shop, click the subscribe button below.