A couple years ago, I started thinking about the far-reaching chola style that was so popular in my middle school and high school days, and began searching the internet for evidence.
Like the soft focus Sears portraits of heavily lip-lined girls squatting and flashing signs, sporting doorknocker earrings and bare midriffs (or XXL men’s tees) that were traded amongst friends and slipped into clear binder pockets.
Or images from Santa Clara’s Great America, where teenagers with gravity-defying bangs cresting high over foreheads and heavily gelled perms waited in line with their crew.
Chola looks originated in SoCal in the 30s and 40s. Mexican and Central-American pachucas wore zoot suits, baggy pants, bouffants and red lipstick: looks that were glamorous, complex and tough all at the same time.
By the 90s, the influence was huge. Flannels, wallet chains and Dickies spilled into more typically white subcultures, like the alterna/skateboarding scene. Plenty of Asian and white girls I knew modeled their outfits after the Mexican-American aesthetic.
For Bay Area natives, it should all be as familiar as low-riders bumping down the street.
So finding photographic evidence should be abundant. But the internet creates its own history, and it seemed like images of cholas were reduced to racist parodies and cheap costumes. If women my age had old photos of themselves chola-d out, the pics were either sitting in drawers or hiding in the nether-regions of the internet.
As much as the idea persists that we have all info at the touch of our hands, it’s still easier to find photos of posed models dressed in the look, or glammed-up photo shoots instead of actual people.
The fashion industry loves to tell us that style trickles down from the runways to us plebes. But if that were true there would be no cultural appropriation, no trendspotters, and certainly no chola-inspired Vogue editorials.
It’s time to face the facts: high fashion borrows and steals from subcultures they’ll never give credit to.
Yeah, there are more images of actual cholas these days compared to when I looked several years ago (check out this Pinterest!) but ultimately the most visible images in our culture are going to be of white models with gelled-down baby hairs and gold hoops, Katy Perry and Gwen Stefani and all the other sanitized marketable versions of a fierce and original style- or the frat party parody.
So I just wanna say: save your photos. Scan them in- especially if they reflect a culture we don’t get to see enough of in mass media. They’re important.