Photographed by Stefan Ruiz
“Dramatic as fuck” is how Sailor Gonzales describes her style. Gonzales, 20, is a double major in fashion design and Chicano studies who works at a roller-skate shop in Long Beach, California, but grew up in the Wilmington section of Los Angeles. “I love the stuff my mom used to be into in high school,” she recently told Vogue. “I love the dramatic cholita eye makeup that my tías and mom used to wear. I find comfort when people feel nostalgic when they see my outfit.”
Across the Southwest and especially in L.A., retro references have long been a vital element of Latina style. But throwback looks are not merely data points in fashion’s larger recycling of eras, cuts, and proportions. “A lot of young Chicanos want to connect to their history,” explained John Carlos De Luna, a vintage clothing dealer and the owner of Barrio Dandy Vintage, a showroom in Boyle Heights. “Inherently they’re connecting to an America that didn’t really accept them, an America that looked down on them. There’s such power in that— to own that history.”
The Chicano style vernacular begins with the pachuco subculture of the 1930s and 1940s, said De Luna, the tapered trousers and pompadours of the zoot-suit era: “This is the inception of our identity.” Not coincidentally, during this period there was also overt persecution of Mexican-Americans in L.A., who were targeted in the series of racist attacks known as the Zoot Suit Riots. Beginning here, a shared narrative is maintained and retold through fashion.
Young women today make allusions to the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, another tumultuous time for the Latino community in L.A., when gang violence derailed and cut short the lives of many. “They are referencing mass incarceration,” De Luna said of the ’90s revival. “They are saying, in effect, ‘I don’t want to be a number.’ ” It’s an era that Dorys Araniva, 37, a designer of Salvadoran descent, lived through and makes a point to keep alive. “My style is really in tune with my culture and my upbringing,” Araniva said. “The early ’90s in Los Angeles were so raw and so beautiful. They continue to haunt me in a really good and precious way.”
Isabella Ferrada is an artist, model and aspiring cinematographer. Her makeup and style is a mix of inspiration from drag culture, her mother and aunts in the 1980s and 90s, and her friends who she describes as "a group of young, queer, woke brown artists.”
She wears a top from Mujerista Market designed by her friend, Salina Zazueta-Beltrán. Photographed in Westlake, Los Angeles.
Ofelia Esparza and her daughter Rosanna Esparza Ahrens in front of their home in East Los Angeles. Rosanna, the fifth of nine children, is an artist and graphic designer who runs Tonalli Studio with her mother. Ofelia has lived in this neighborhood all of her life: her mother originally lived in this house, and it is four blocks from where Ofelia was born, and across the street from where she attended middle school.
Ofelia Esparza, 85, is a master altar maker and lifelong resident of East Los Angeles. As an artist and educator, she has dedicated her life to her community and to continuing traditions she learned from her mother. She is well-known for the public ofrendas she creates each year in celebration of El Día de Los Muertos.
She was photographed at Tonalli Studio, an art space she runs with her daughter, Rosanna, in Old Town Maravilla, in East L.A.
Visual Director: Suzanne Shaheen
Editor: Alessandra Codinha
Designers: Fernando Dias De Souza and Sara Jendusa
Producer: Maleana Davis
Photo Producer: Ashley Solomon
Engineer: Gregory Kilian
Research and Sittings editor: Olivia Horner
Text by ABBY AGUIRRE
Photographed by STEFAN RUIZ