Mexican painter Frida Kahlo surely never imagined she would become a fashion icon, alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe or Jackie Kennedy. Nevertheless, many stylists and photographers have been inspired by the artist’s style, and especially her famous hairdo: two braids crowned with flowers attached to the top of the head. But what’s the origin of this hairdo? FAB went looking in the State of Oaxaca in Mexico…
Frida Khalo’s style was not an original creation, but nor was it something that she just happened to come by. Few people know that the painter’s father was a German. For Frida was only half-Mexican: her mother was a native of Oaxaca, a state in the south of Mexico that is bordered by the Pacific Ocean. It’s a colorful state that is authentic and traditional, fierce and proud. It was this maternal heritage that the painter chose to make her own. She decided to identify predominately as a native, very much in the spirit of the 1910 Mexican revolution that rejected Europe as a model.
In The Footsteps Of The Zapotecs
Frida adopted the style of the Juchitan society, Juchitan being an area in the State of Oaxaca and also one of the oldest matriarchal societies in the world. Here, women are the head of the family, they pass their name on to their children and manage the household finances, including the man’s income. Following their native Zapotec ancestors – a civilization that is more than 2,000 years old – the women adopt very traditional dress and hairstyles. They wear the tehuana, a costume consisting of a long skirt and a top embroidered with brightly colored flowers, with their hair in two braids, often adorned with flowers. On religious and public holidays, their hair is braided with a ribbon and then tied up over the head. This is the hairdo worn by the painter in a large number of self-portraits. Silver ornaments are also an essential part of this costume.
The Muxes Of Juchitan
Juchitan’s particular identity has generated a unique phenomenon in Mexico: the muxes. Muxes are male transvestites, who comprise a regular part of society. They frequently dress and wear their hair in the traditional manner. Very often, they run hair salons, where the women of the town go to have their hair done “like Frida”. With astonishing speed and dexterity, the muxes recreate the famous hairdo, choosing flowers with the strongest fragrances, to capture the heart of the ladies’ dancing partners. On young girls, the flowers are attached on the left, and on the right for married women. Zapotecs like to compare their hairdo to a peacock spreading its wings.
So it is not out of frivolity that Frida dressed and did her hair in Zapotec style (even if long skirts were advantageous for hiding her amputated leg), it was because of her feminist convictions. She even wore this costume on the journey she made to Paris in 1939, demonstrating her native roots and fierce feminism to the rest of the world. Frida’s influence is so great internationally that people often say that women from the isthmus where Frida lived dress and wear their hair like her, whereas in fact it is the opposite.