Just a few years ago, Maria Mendoza could not find stores that carried huipiles, loose-fitting embroidered blouses or dresses traditionally worn by Mexican and Central American indigenous women. Often associated with Frida Kahlo, the garments decorated with vibrant flowers and geometric designs were hard to come by until recently when Mendoza started seeing them pop up at shops and flea markets across the Bay Area.
“It was an item you had to get from Mexico,” she said.
Comfy and versatile, huipiles now make up the majority of her wardrobe.
They’re similar to the clothing worn by her grandmother, an indigenous woman from a small village near the Veracruz-Oaxaca border in southern Mexico.
“It’s my way of honoring her and connecting with her,” said Mendoza, a Sonoma State University senior majoring in Chicano studies and sociology. “It’s a form of identity and connecting with my roots.”
Increasingly, Latina students and young professionals throughout the state are embracing huipiles and other traditional clothes, including the tehuana dresses and adelita skirts — long, flowing garments once worn by the military women of the Mexican Revolution. It’s a way to showcase their culture and show resistance at a time of intensifying anti-immigrant rhetoric in the United States, says Roseanna Garcia, founder of Los Angeles-based Latina Fashionista.
While she’s seen the clothing reemerge in the last two years, she said it’s really picked up since January. She’s seen more Latinas showing up to pro-immigration and women’s marches in the attire.
“I’m happy to see Hispanic women, young women, not be afraid to show who they are, their culture and their race, by expressing it through fashion,” said Garcia, whose organization is dedicated to boosting the number of Latinas in leadership positions in the apparel industry.
Young Latinas aren’t the only ones gravitating towards to the embroidered blouses, dresses and skirts. They’re making onto the racks of large apparel companies — some opting for Chinese-made or boho chic imitations.
It can be hard to compete with the cheaper imitations, said Margarita Reyes, a Santa Rosa resident who sells huipiles, adelita skirts and other clothing at the Sebastopol flea market and online. Still, she prefers to buy her inventory directly from the women who make the clothing in Mexico. The clothes comes from Oaxaca, Puebla and Tlaxcala, areas recognized for their embroidery, weaving and textiles.
“This is authentically Mexican. It’s made by hand,” Reyes said of the merchandise at her stall, where dozens of bright-colored floral skirts, dresses and blouses swayed in the wind one breezy afternoon.
Reyes said she has been selling the clothes about two or three years ago. She started with just a few blouses before business began to pick up and customers started to request items.
Blanca Caishpal offers similar clothing at her specialty dress shop, Novedades Blanqui, on Sebastopol Road in southwest Santa Rosa. She started carrying the clothing after seeing a growing interest.
“It has to do with television. All of a sudden, movie stars started wearing them,” she said while showing off a black dress with multi-colored flowers embroidered along the neckline and a large peacock on a bottom corner.
Women purchase the dresses for special occasions, including college graduations, said Caishpal, who has owned the shop for 11 years. A lot of students from Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University have come into her store for the dresses and blouses, she said.