Stitches of History

Stitches of History

Earlier this year and even more so throughout the summer, I noticed the growing presence of clothing that resembled traditional Mexican garments in retail stores.

The key element of this clothing is their embroidery. Take, for instance, items like the short-sleeved, usually off-shoulder, tops with flouncy necklines and flower embroidery that have been taking over stores like Forever 21, Charlotte Russe, Francesca’s, and other popular mall destinations, as well as their counterparts.

 (https://www.forever21.com/us/shop/Catalog/Product/F21/top_blouses_b/2000106949?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI9Ib7lNDN1QIVDoxpCh2_3AmBEAQYBCABEgLlxvD_BwE)

(https://www.forever21.com/us/shop/Catalog/Product/F21/top_blouses_b/2000106949?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI9Ib7lNDN1QIVDoxpCh2_3AmBEAQYBCABEgLlxvD_BwE)

 (https://www.forever21.com/us/shop/Catalog/Product/F21/branded-shop/2000138987)

(https://www.forever21.com/us/shop/Catalog/Product/F21/branded-shop/2000138987)

  (https://www.francescas.com/product/adora-lantern-sleeve-embroidered-off-the-shoulder.do?sortby=ourPicksAscend&page=2&refType=&from=fn&ecList=7&ecCategory=100123)

(https://www.francescas.com/product/adora-lantern-sleeve-embroidered-off-the-shoulder.do?sortby=ourPicksAscend&page=2&refType=&from=fn&ecList=7&ecCategory=100123)

 

In the same way that this clothing trend began populating clothing racks and window displays, it, too, began making repeated appearances both on social media feeds and in everyday life. My first reaction was wow, these shirts kind of remind me of my time in Guerrero, Mexico: the bailes folkloricos, the clothes my aunt would hand-make for me, and the clothing worn by most of my aunts and my grandmother.

However, the fact that I had been reminded of those memories and of those women in my life made me question the credit that was being given to the culture that these styles borrowed from.

In 2015, designer Isabel Marant’s “Étoile” collection faced plagiarism accusations for its striking parallels to the clothing used by the Mixe people, an indigenous community in Oaxaca, Mexico. Backlash included protests at Marant’s New York store and even a press conference held by the Mixe community, where the group stated that Marant’s design contained “the graphical elements specific to the Tlahuitoltepec blouse, a design which has transcended borders” and that it was “not a novel creation as is affirmed by the designer” (The Guardian).  

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 1.14.04 PM.png
  Mixe community on top, Marant’s design on bottom.    [The pictures were tweeted by musician Susana Harp.]

Mixe community on top, Marant’s design on bottom.

[The pictures were tweeted by musician Susana Harp.]

 

Eventually, Marant admitted the design belonged to the Mixe people and pulled the blouse from sale. Nevertheless, this demonstrates how easily ideas and designs can be appropriated.

Rather than spend time articulating the problems with cultural appropriation, I’d like to focus on cultural appreciation. It is important to respect and be knowledgeable about the cultures that ideas and designs stem from so that appreciation can be genuine, and thus I’d like to highlight a couple of Traditional Mexican garments.

  https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/67/01/48/670148e6ad4b047427d2114f13a77d4b.jpg

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/67/01/48/670148e6ad4b047427d2114f13a77d4b.jpg

The term for such shirts is huipil, and they are designs that have been part of numerous indigenous communities not only in Mexico but in Central America as well for several centuries.

Just as traditions do, the long-established garments that are prevalent in each region vary. Hence, there are a variety of names used to refer to different traditional Mexican or Central American wear, though there are often some similarities in appearance.

Variety in both appearance and terminology also stems from the fact that although in pre-Hispanic times garments such as the enredo, quechquémitl and huipil were the most used by women, after the arrival of the Spanish there emerged other designs that featured European-style blouses with some of the traditional embroidery.

Existing terms used to refer the traditional garments of varying regions include: traje de china poblana, traje de acateca, traje jarocho, and pasahuanco, to name a few.

Each and every garment has a fascinating history behind it. For example, the traje de china poblana term refers to the traditional dress of the state of Puebla, with an embroidered, short sleeved blouse, a long, full skirt and shawl. There are differing versions of the story, but the traje de china poblana is said to have originated from a girl from China (or another Eastern country) that was taken to Puebla, Mexico as a slave by Spaniards. According to legend, she brought with her a distinctive style of dress that used silk, beads, and sequins, which she incorporated to traditional Mexican garments.

The apparel that I was exposed to during the years I lived in Guerrero, before returning to the United States, was representative of what is known as the tierra caliente region. My aunt, Minerva, is a seamstress, and so she would personally make the outfits I needed to perform in bailes folkloricos, traditional Mexican dances that highlight regional folk culture.

In the same way that this clothing trend began populating clothing racks and window displays, it, too, began making repeated appearances both on social media feeds and in everyday life. My first reaction was wow, these shirts kind of remind me of my time in Guerrero, Mexico: the bailes folkloricos, the clothes my aunt would hand-make for me, and the clothing worn by most of my aunts and my grandmother.

However, the fact that I had been reminded of those memories and of those women in my life made me question the credit that was being given to the culture that these styles borrowed from.

In 2015, designer Isabel Marant’s “Étoile” collection faced plagiarism accusations for its striking parallels to the clothing used by the Mixe people, an indigenous community in Oaxaca, Mexico. Backlash included protests at Marant’s New York store and even a press conference held by the Mixe community, where the group stated that Marant’s design contained “the graphical elements specific to the Tlahuitoltepec blouse, a design which has transcended borders” and that it was “not a novel creation as is affirmed by the designer” (The Guardian).  

  [Me, 4-5 years old, wearing a traditional outfit of tierra caliente hand-made by my aunt]

[Me, 4-5 years old, wearing a traditional outfit of tierra caliente hand-made by my aunt]

Thus, when I see more and more styles that have been inspired by the rich cultures of Mexican states or of Central America, I think of people like my aunt Minerva, sitting at her sewing machine or carefully embroidering flowers, creating clothing items that carry so much history and significance.

If you find yourself drawn to such styles that been taking over our Facebook feeds, malls, and friends’ (and maybe even our own) closets, take a moment to learn about the cultures and traditions that have already been employing key aspects (if not all) of those designs for centuries.

Not only will you be paying respects to the people that have been carrying on these traditions and showing appreciation to the inspiration behind current trends, but you just might find yourself enthralled by the richness and complexity of it all.

 

 

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/jun/17/mexican-mixe-blouse-isabel-marant#img-1

 

http://www.vogue.co.uk/article/isabel-marant-plagiarism-claim-santa-maria-tlahuitoltepec-oaxaca

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mexico-prevents-indigenous-designs-from-being-culturally-appropriated-again_us_56e87879e4b0b25c9183afc4

https://www.viajejet.com/traje-tipico-de-mexico/

 

http://www.themexicandress.com/puebla-dress-history.shtml

 

http://www.profesorenlinea.cl/Paisesmundo/Mexico/Puebla/Puebla_Trajes_Tipicos.html

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