Cholita Chic *Video*

There are places you go in the world and things that you see that make you scratch your head and the dress of the women of Bolivia is one of these cultural phenomenon that leave you wondering…why?

Throughout Bolivia, it’s common to see the local women, called cholitas, wearing full skirts lined with petticoats, long pigtails, colorful shawls, and tiny bowler hats perched on their heads at a jaunty angle. I had to find out how this peculiar fashion statement came about. Here’s what I learned:

The Hat: It all starts with the hat. Apparently, a shipment of bowler hats arrived from Britain in the 1920s. While the hats were intended for the colonialists working on the construction of the railroads, the hats that arrived were too small and they were distributed to the locals. From then on, the women adopted them as an icon of elegance.

The Skirt: Called a pollera, the skirt is originally a Spanish peasant skirt that local women were forced to wear by their colonizers. A pollera is usually made with 8 meters of cloth and it is worn with 4-5 embroidered underskirts. The effect is a particularly “round look” that has become a symbol of indigenous pride.

The Shawl: Called an aguayo, the women’s shawl (sometimes it’s more like a square of fabric) is worn in the traditional communities of the Andes, including Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, and northern Chile and Argentina. The aguayo, closely associated with indigenous Quechua and Aymara cultures, are full of color and symbolic figures and are used to helped carry children and goods to market.

The Pigtails: Pigtails on a grown woman always gives me pause. Cholitas take great pride in their long hair, and in fact, make it appear even longer by adding black yarn to the ends with added pompoms for good measure. In effect, pigtail-extensions!

Cholita Fashionistas

Not only are the assembled parts a fashion statement, but how you wear each garment indicates and woman’s social position, such as her marital status and aspirations. I’ve been told that the number of petticoats, which side of her head she wears her hat, and the color of her outfit can tell you where she lives.

From the working-class neighborhoods of La Paz, cholita fashion has taken a step forward from urban tradition with its own website: ChoilitasFashion. It has also found its way onto the catwalk. Check out cholita fashion in motion:

Can’t see the video? Click on this link: Cholita Fashion

Interested in reading about more international fashion statements? Check out:

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 and is filed under Shopping & Fashion.

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