A braided updo, drawn unibrow and mustache, flower ornaments, a huipil, a long colorful skirt, and a nice rebozo shawl are the elements that put together Frida Kahlo's style, but what do these represent in the creation of her persona?
Frida Kahlo is probably one of the most recognizable characters in history mainly for her characteristic style and image. Not only she is considered one of the best artists in the world, but she also became a symbol of strength, resilience, and female empowerment like no other, at least int he past century. Her style has been replicated all over the world, but the thing about Frida is that her persona has been widely caricatured until it became a merchandising product. Her image sometimes feels like a voided influence, instead of an honest representation that inspires people to embrace themselves, their issues, and obstacles so they rebirth out of them. That’s pretty much Frida’s most important legacy if you ask me; the power of understanding herself and creating a self-image capable of breaking with social standards and barriers.
To get in character, people all over the world love getting their hair up in intricate braids embellished with flowers. But more than following a set of instructions for a DIY costume, today we want to explore what each of these elements meant for the artist on a personal level; how they helped her create that impressive and iconic image that still entices the whole world.
We all know that she loved embracing her roots through her clothing, but why did she use certain Mexican attires and not others? Did she ever wear something else than traditional clothes? What about makeup and hair? This conversation about her "looks" may sound vain when talking about a woman who attached to feminism and communism, but the way she looked had intentional elements that were key to her iconic persona.
First things first, her clothing. It’s well known that Frida Kahlo struggled with her health all her life. She was diagnosed with poliomyelitis when she was six years old her which led to permanent damage in her right leg. Since then, she started to wear layers of socks or even heels on her right leg to even the lengths of her legs. By the time she was only nineteen years old, Frida was severely damaged in the famous tram accident that would lead her to several spine surgeries and that would make her live in permanent pain.
It's often said that it was her husband Diego Rivera who introduced or suggested her to wear traditional Mexican clothes. Well, that's not quite accurate. There are pictures and documents that show how she had always been inspired by her mother's indigenous roots and how both often wore this kind of clothes. Besides that, the long Tehuana skirts and loose blouses (from the south-eastern region of Mexico) helped her conceal her leg and the surgical corsets she had to wear to support her spine.
In addition, she used both her clothes and hairstyle as symbols of her political and cultural identity at a time when nationalism played a huge role in some social fields of the country. She would often complement her look with a fine embroidered and colorful rebozo. This item is not only part of traditional garments in many regions of Mexico, but it became a symbol of female empowerment by the imagery of the Adelitas, women who fought at the Mexican Revolution (when Frida’s was a child). Frida's colorful flower crowns, not widely used back then, showed the world the colors and traditions of a syncretic culture that had both indigenous and European roots, just like herself.
It’s well known that the traumatic events throughout her life shaped her personally and artistically. Yes, she embraced her issues and channel her emotions into art but, let’s be honest, she also did this to make a living. However, though the Frida depicted in paintings was quite open about these scars, the Frida "in person" wasn’t that comfortable showing them up. For that reason, besides concealing these with clothes, she was very keen to draw away all the attention from her lower body and canalize it to her face and hair. Since she was a teenager, she adopted her mother’s hairstyle parting it on the middle and braiding it in the traditional way (unlike her sisters who embraced Western trends of their time), decorating it not only with flowers but with textiles intertwining her locks.
As for her face, she's well-known for her unibrow and mustache. To understand Frida, we have to bear in mind that she lived through duality, not only in terms of nationality and identity but also genderwise. This duality in gender doesn't have to do with her being bisexual, but rather with the feminine and masculine elements in her art. This dual persona can be found in her paintings and personal life and, it’s said, that this was the reason why she always kept her brows and mustache highlighted so she could show that duality.
She was also very devoted to her makeup. In the last decade, some of her personal objects (that had been concealed since her death) have been displayed to the public showing not only her loyalty to determined products and brands, but the whole process she went through every day to establish her image. Now we know she used black eyeliner to shape her brows, pink and red lipsticks, an intense blush she loved going heavy with, and her iconic red nail polish.
Somehow there’s the impression she was a bit careless about her image aside from her clothes, but in fact, Frida used to spend a lot of time getting ready. She was a natural fashionista who enjoyed buying clothes and commissioning new fabrics and embroiders in an attempt to build an outer image that would conceal her pain and sorrows. As we mentioned, these emotional and physical scars could only live in her art and private life. But for the rest of the world, she presented herself as this unique gorgeous woman you couldn’t take your eyes off. So, if you’re thinking on embracing Frida Kahlo's looks, don't focus only on getting the flower ornaments, or the embroidered huipil, instead, think on the importance she gave to her image and the symbolism it implied in showing herself as a strong woman capable of reinventing herself after all the obstacles she faced.
For more about Frida take a look at these:
Santiago gonzalez Lladó @santyglado
Nars Cosmetiques @narsissist
Jenny Barcenas @jessicanailsmx