Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It’s An Inner-city Thing

In the 90's Gwen Stefani dabbled in this style and put her own spin on it.

It’s An Inner-city Thing
By Lux

The 80’s were witness to a wide variety of types and styles of fashion. While not always explicable, it seems that clothing was experimented with more at that time that at any other time in history. Even today, true innovation is very rarely seen. Often designers, musicians, actors and others in the public eye look back to resuscitate some trend or another of the past and appear to be progressive. In fact, one can Google “80’s fashion” and countless pages of sites will come up. Browsing through some of them, one can see how elements of several of these styles have resurfaced many times since the 80’s. But there is one thing I have yet to see on any of these 80’s fashion sites. Site after site something is missing.

The 4 major types of mainstream fashion in the 80’s are usually represented: Hip Hop (ala Run DMC with oversize clothing, chunky gold chains and Adidas), 80’s Punk (torn clothing, spikes and studs, Mohawks and hair in every color), Glam/Hair Metal (BIG hair of course, inches of makeup, tight pants and lots of leather) and the oft ridiculed Preppy/Yuppie style (“young urban professionals“) which consisted of khaki pants or shorts paired with pastel shirts, sweaters tied around the shoulders, oversize blazers and a generally “clean cut” look. Then there are the various sub-genres within each of these groups as well as the rare, but occasional, cross influences. However, like I said, something is missing. Where are the Cholas?

I grew up in a lot of places but mostly in San Jose, California, in the poorest areas, dare I say the “ghettoes” of SJ. In the 80’s gangs were a huge problem. There were (still are as I hear it) two major warring gangs: the Crips and the Bloods. Within each there were various crews of course. But strangely enough, members on both sides of the feud, no matter what the crew, shared the same style. No matter what side you claimed the clothing was practically the same. It was so similar that it was almost like a uniform. Guys and girls both wore basically the same articles. A typical outfit consisted of a pair of Dickies or Ben Davis pants (cuffed and creased), a white ribbed “wife beater” tank top (sometimes air brushed with the particular person’s nickname) or plain white T-shirt, a flannel also called a Pendleton (red or blue depending on what your affiliation) and the signature Cholo hairstyle. Hair was a big deal. It was common for one to spend a significant amount of time on one’s hair. The look could not be completed without the proper hairstyle. Cholas and Cholos both had hair reminiscent of the 50’s which is, in fact, what they were trying to emulate if not in dress then in spirit. (The very first Cholos were the children of Latin American immigrants in the 50‘s. But back then they wore “Zoot Suits” which were basically cheap, slightly exaggerated versions of the pinstripe suits white American gangsters wore.) For girls the hair had to be teased and sprayed into a tall bouffant (think Elvira), for guys it was generally feathered back, moussed and often protected by a hair net. Adornments on the girls were kept to a minimum, the makeup however tended to be heavy on the eyes and the questionable lip liner sans lipstick trend seems to have began during this time. The guys had their own set of adornments as well in the form of tattoos. The Virgin Mary, gang affiliations, family surnames in Old English text and faces of loved ones who had passed away were popular. Some Cholos would sport prison tattoos as status symbols showing them to be “real” gang bangers who had served time. And the “rag” that those who had been jumped (physically beaten by several members of a crew) into a gang wore must not be forgotten. It was a paisley bandana in either red or blue. One did well not to get caught alone wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood.

As I was growing up I was surrounded by people who dressed this way. This was what I knew. I was surprised to find when researching 80’s fashion online that this style was so under-represented. The crazy get-ups of Cyndi Lauper and David Lee Roth were what people on TV wore. No one I knew dressed that way, they’d probably get beat down if they did. The 80’s for me were: guys restoring vintage low riders in their garages, Motown oldies from the 50’s and 60’s playing from people’s tape decks and Cholos and Cholas cruising up and down the boulevard. Much like the other 80’s styles I’ve mentioned, this wasn’t just about what you wore; it was a way of life.

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