Fri, May 19, 23
Over the past few decades, a prominent presence has been looming in pop culture and, more specifically, fashion. Yet, it is a presence that people find hard to place, and, for that reason, it often doesn't get the flowers it deserves. Oversized, pleated jeans and trousers, gothic lettering, the recent resurgence of Dickies, and much more can be traced back to this single cultural source. We're talking about Chicano culture.
For those not in the know, Chicanos/as are people of Mexican descent or origin that live in the United States, mainly down South. With the arrival of Second/Layer, the Buddy Optical collaboration, and the soon arrival of Dickies at Tenue de Nîmes—all three very much influenced by, or, part of, Chicano style—we wanted to dedicate a blog to the culture that these brands are entangled and enamoured with. As trends are passed on or appropriated elsewhere, the initial meaning often gets lost in translation. Which is a shame. Although we'll hardly be able to scratch the surface in this blog, we hope that people will appreciate Chicano culture, its influence, and their own garments more.
Image by Merrick Morton, 1980s.
Often it is said that Chicano culture started in 1929, during the Mexican Repatriation, in which 2 million Mexican inhabitants of the US (who lived in a territory that belonged to Mexico only 70 years earlier) got deported to Mexico. Mexican Americans were already being treated as second-grade citizens, and this violation threw even more gas on the fire. As you can imagine, Mexican Americans weren't too excited about assimilating into a society that treated them so awfully. This mistreatment resulted in counterculture and protest, also through attire. By wearing Zoot Suits—popularized in the New York Jazz scene in the 20s and 30s—a new sartorial identity was created by the Pachucos, the Chicano's predecessors. These suits with super-wide cuts, elongated jackets, puffed shoulders and almost balloon-like trousers with a centre crease were extremely flashy and rubbed a lot of Americans the wrong way. Basically, the suave Zoot Suits were seen as a wearable middle finger. During WW2, in which many Mexicans weren't eligible for the army due to their immigrant status, which was due to American legislation, the suits especially aggravated homeland patriots and veterans. This animosity exploded in 1943 during the Zoot Suit Riots, in which Mexican Americans were targeted and attacked viciously.
Senseless attacks like the above and other forms of oppression led to a new social movement and identity during the 60s, coined El Movimiento. During this period, Mexican Americans started calling themselves Chicano/as, a term that, prior, was a racial slur. Through this civil rights movement, Mexican Americans showed pride in their heritage and founded a new culture and identity—an authentic Mexican and American culture and identity. Of course, this also translated into how Chicanos/as dressed. Reminiscent of the large Zoot Suits, Chicano/as started wearing oversized Dickies trousers, most notably the khaki-coloured ones, or Levi's jeans, cinching them at the waist to create a crease. Second/Layer even named their Zooty Trouser after the Zoot Suit. Atop their Dickies, usually, a white t-shirt and a Pendleton button-down were worn. The outfit was finished off with either Nike Cortez sneakers or Chuck Taylor's and white sports socks.
Reappropriating these American workwear staples in a completely different fashion has something poetic to it. In some way, it is a form of identifying with American culture, and in another, it is a sign of resilience against it. It just goes to show the deep meaning simple clothing can hold.
Chicano style. Image from Joseph Rodriguez. From the book: East Side Stories: Gang Life in East L.A.
The new style of Chicano dress would inspire many other cultures that nowadays drive the fashion zeitgeist. In the 70s, the skaters from Dogtown would also start wearing oversized jeans, Pendleton shirts and white sports socks. A look now unmistakably associated with Californian skate culture actually has its roots in the Mexican American communities. Slightly later, in the 80s and 90s, West-Coast hip-hop music took the world by storm. Eazy-E, Snoop Dogg and many other artists could be seen sporting large, pleated khakis or denim with oversized shirts on top and garments adorned with Gothic lettering. Needless to say, their look was inspired by the Chicano community. Even in Japan, a vast 'Chicano' community has been thriving since the 80s. They dress the part and drive around in candy-painted lowriders bumping Chicano hip-hop music. These are just a few examples; we could go on for days.
Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. Image by Chi Modu.
As mentioned earlier, even at Tenue de Nîmes, the Chicano culture is very much present. Denim culture, in general, has been heavily influenced by Chicano style, driving the new-found interest in raw denim jeans in the 90s-which has continued to this day. Or take the American heritage brand Dickies-soon to release- that is literally part of the Chicano 'uniform'. Second/Layer, a new show-stopper brand from Los Angeles, heavily draws inspiration from Chicano styling. You can immediately see the influence in the brand's tailoring and styling. Also, our latest collaboration and campaign with Buddy Optical was sparked and influenced by this cultural source. You probably get the message.
Chicano culture has greatly influenced fashion worldwide and will continue to do so.
We hope that through blogs like these, we introduce people to the deep cultural roots of seemingly simple clothes so that the next time you step out in a pair of baggy jeans and an overshirt, you might quickly remind yourself of from how far away that style came.
Shop the new Second/Layer collection right here.
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