6 Ubiquitous Trends You Can Thank Latinx Communities For
Fashion wouldn’t be the same without them.
When influencers on TikTok started the so-called clean girl aesthetic trend of slicked back hair, “brownie” lips, and golden hoop earrings, members of Latinx communities were puzzled as this has been a staple look for generations of BIPOC people. As Latin America consists of many countries across multiple continents with a global diaspora, it’s important to note that Latinx people aren’t a monolith, and neither are their fashion choices. But these diverse societies have definitely served as inspiration for several popular fashion trends without receiving proper credit in the past.
This is nothing new. Major designers have a long track record of copy and pasting cultural clothing with deep significance reserved for ceremonies on the runways, thus all but erasing the garments’ history. In 2021, Mexico’s Ministry of Culture accused Zara, Anthropologie, and Patowl of cultural appropriation after they allegedly used patterns created by Indigenous Mexican groups in their collections without any benefit to the communities where the designs originated. Mexico is taking a stand against the fashion industry to protect designs rooted in Indigenous cultures. After representatives for the country called out Isabel Marant in 2020 for appropriating Indigenous designs, the French fashion designer apologized — a move that often feels like too little, too late.
The industry must do better to recognize the traditional styles of other cultures and pay them the respect they deserve. Ahead, is a good place to start: Keep scrolling for the story behind six beloved fashion trends that originated in Latinx communities.
Ponchos, also known as ruanas, are a style that ranchers, cowboys, and farmers traditionally wore in the winter months. “The poncho is an ancestral and contemporary garment. It originated in South America along the Andes Mountains and is very popular in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Uruguay,” says Carolina Kleinman, founder of Carolina K. Based out of Miami, the sustainable label employs artisans from Mexico and Peru to create an array of pieces that pay homage to traditional garb. “The Incas used it as a shield for extreme weather conditions,” she continues.
The designer has been incorporating artisan-made ponchos into her collection since launching her brand in 2006. “I added my own designs to traditional ponchos by adding pom-poms made from alpaca wool and designing them in multi colors,” says Kleinman, who is originally from Argentina and frequently travels throughout Latin America. “In 2011, I took inspiration from Cusco, Peru, and created a poncho that featured long tassels.”
The woven, cold-weather outerwear is traditionally crafted from heavy wool to keep people warm as they tended to land or livestock. Ponchos were made with one large square piece of fabric with a hole cut for the head. Today you can find ponchos with hoods, armholes, and intricate designs.
“It takes four months to make a poncho using hand-loomed techniques. They come in a plethora of beautiful colors using natural tints from plants,” Kleinman says. She notes that they became a mainstream fashion trend in the ’70s thanks to the wildly popular work of designer Yves Saint Laurent (who is well-documented in taking creative liberties with traditional styles from around the world, from Marrakech to St. Petersburg).
The origin of gaucho pants is right in the name. Gaucho is the term used for ranchers and cowboys in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil — and they began wearing the cropped knee-length ultra-wide-legged pants in the 17th century. “Gauchos’ characteristic draped pants were constructed out of pieces of woolen fabric exhibiting the colorful stripes characteristic of the Indigenous textiles of the region,” says Henry Navarro Delgado, associate fashion professor at Toronto Metropolitan University. Gauchos were worn for practicality, which plays into the reason similar silhouettes such as long wide-legged leather shorts are so popular right now. “The trend nowadays is based on the relaxed feel and versatility of gaucho pants.”
According to Navarro, the guayabera shirt — a silhouette we now associate with vacations — was first invented in Cuba in the mid-19th century inspired by a jacket worn by the Spanish army. “It maintained the camp collar and the four pockets of the Spanish tropical army jacket, but additional narrow sections of decorative tucks were added in the front and back,” he explains. “Guayaberas were then adopted as the uniform of the Cuban [soldiers] as well as by people throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Centro America, and South America.”
For civilians, guayaberas were considered formal attire in warm-weather locales. Today, lightweight short-sleeved collared resort shirts made of cotton or linen are a staple for off-duty ensembles. The breathable fabric is why guayaberas are popular in hot, humid climates, Navarro notes. “[The design] continues to enjoy a following because of its functionality and because it can be easily dressed up or down,” he says.
The so-called Panama hat has nothing to do with Panamá — in fact, it has roots in Ecuador. “In the 1600s, Ecuadorians began harvesting palm fronds and weaving hats with a braid-like pattern crafted into the iconic style,” explains Karla Gallardo, co-founder of Cuyana. “It can take weavers up to eight months to construct a hat.” Today, straw hats inspired by the Ecuadorian design are sold around the world.
Gallardo was born and bred in Ecuador and witnessed the cultural misappropriation of the Panama hat. Construction workers wore the straw hats to protect themselves from the extreme sun while building the Panama Canal. “During a visit to the canal, Teddy Roosevelt was photographed wearing the hat, which is how it gained its mainstream popularity and is why the product is referred to as a Panama hat and the true origin story is lost,” Gallardo says. Cuyana’s “This Is Not a Panama* Hat” campaign highlights its Panama* Hat and reclaims its Ecuadorian heritage and also shares the untold stories of the Indigenous female artisans who craft the hats.
For the past decade, large woven bags — sometimes embroidered with a catchy phrase such as “beach, please!” — have been considered beach day must-haves. Traditionally, these large structured carryalls were made with textiles from the iraca, a species of palm plant with dozens of varieties that grow across Central and South America. “Iraca fibers, extracted from young leaves, are woven into bags. Artisans from different Indigenous communities across different countries have their version of the bag such as the Wayuus, located in the north region of Colombia, and the Náhuatls from Mexico,” says Gabriela Pacini, co-founder of Apaya, says.
“Initially in Colombia, the woven bags were used in agriculture to maintain the aroma of coffee and the freshness of potatoes. The sustainable characteristics have helped increase consumer interest in the handmade straw bags trend,” Pacini continues. Her label’s products are handmade by artisans with iraca palm purchased and naturally dyed in Sandoná. The collection features styles that have been made for hundreds of years and each bag can be traced to an individual artisan.
You may know the name “Huarache” from the popular Nike sneaker style, but the shoe’s history actually goes back hundreds of years. The original huaraches were worn by Tarahumara runners dating back to pre-Columbian Mexico. “They were first created out of wild animal hides. During colonial times, huaraches became the footwear of choice of humble rural farmers, who appreciated their durability, comfort, and low cost,” Navarro says.
The footwear transformed over time into woven leather sandals that are popular in Mexican coastal towns. By the 20th century, they became sustainable, albeit by accident. “New materials were incorporated into the construction of huaraches such as car tires for the soles,” says Navarro. “Huaraches’ simplicity, comfort, versatility, and low cost has propelled them into a globally recognized and admired style of footwear.”