The History of Chicanx Fashion

Way back in the late 1400s, the Spaniards made the long journey to the Americas, taking the resources, like gold and spices, as well as many lives — of the Indigenous people living there. As the Spaniards colonized Latin America, they created a tier system that more or less put the Indigenous people at the bottom and the Spaniards at the top. They also enforced their own beliefs and culture onto the Indigenous people, causing them to, unfortunately, rely on the Spaniards. The Spaniards started to refer to the Indigenous people as “cholos,” which they used as a derogatory term for people with mixed or full Indigenous heritage. They slaughtered and raped much of the Indigenous population, known today as one of the biggest massacres in American history.

Chicanxs — people born in the United States that are of Mexican descent, which is heavily influenced by Spanish and Indigenous cultures — used fashion as a way to claim their identity and not fully assimilate into white American society. During the 1940s, Chicanxs and Black Americans, mostly from East Los Angeles, adopted a unique style, wearing zoot suits, which have long flowy jackets and wide-legged pants. It’s essential to note that at this time, America was fighting in World War II, and the manufacturing of men’s suits had been restricted. If you weren’t white or didn’t dress as they wanted you to, then you would be seen as unpatriotic, and not be accepted into American society. These tensions led to a giant development of Chicanx culture, when servicemen, police officers, and white residents started to attack young Chicanxs. This violent and racially-motivated series of conflicts are known as the Zoot Suit Riots. The event became a crucial part of how we have cholo culture and fashion today.

Cholos, which I will be referring to as “Homeboys” and “Homegirls” to be respectful, started to create their own style, influenced by the many hardships and difficulties they endured. They wore bandanas, Dickies, flannel shirts, hats, and would accessorize with big hoop earrings and black eyeliner. 

Chicanxs are also known for their love of low riding. Low rider culture originated in Los Angeles around the mid-1940s to 1950s. The Chicanx youth would lower the blocks, cut spring coils, and drop the spindles of their vehicles. They would then cruise in their low riding cars, usually in big groups. If you’re lucky, you may see low riders in the Mission District in San Francisco! 

Chicanx people in LA also played a big part in popularizing the baggy style. Skaters and gang members would usually be seen wearing oversized clothing, which has turned into a big fashion trend today. At first, the baggy style that people of color would wear was extremely frowned upon, and seen as not clean or acceptable in American society. Later on, however, white people started to like the style and began to copy their look. Now that it was popular with white people, the style wasn’t seen as bad, but rather a fashionable look for everyone to wear. Big skate shops and fashion houses claimed the style to be new and upcoming, causing white skaters to start to wear Dickies pants, bandanas, and baggy shirts. Chicanx people never got credit for popularizing this look. Fashion brands are still refusing to acknowledge where they got the style from and continue to appropriate the look. Even A-list celebrities such as Lana del Rey and Kim Kardashian have appropriated Chicanx fashion. 

Today, you can definitely see trends from Chicanx culture entering popular culture more broadly, with items like baggy pants, short tops, big hoop earrings, etc. It’s really important to remember where fashion trends originate so you can respect and acknowledge others. If everyone were to respect and give thanks to other heritages, then we could start to enjoy and share each other’s riches. 

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