Last Updated on November 8, 2020
The Chola subculture goes way back in history, to a time of political and social discrimination against the Latin communities within the United States.
The rejection they received from mainstream society further fuelled their rebellious attitude, this developed in the following decades. In the 90s, Chola style was still highly prominent as a social diversification group.
Origins of Chola Culture
During the 1940s onwards, Mexican American teenage women became more prominent within society as a distinguished group. They were different from the stereotypical American—they dressed more daringly, wore darker makeup, and listened to Tejano themes music.
Gang brawls occurred consistently throughout Los Angeles and other parts of California. During these times, specifically in 1943, a news channel officially referred to these women as ‘Cholitas’. Other similar terms included ‘Chicanos’ or ‘Pachucos’.
The mainstream media’s view was one of outsiders, even though many individuals have now admitted they thought Cholas were extremely cool. Currently, the media makes Chola fashion look extremely stylish.
Essentially, Cholas represented a sense of powerful feminism and beauty within their own communities. They were considered radical for wearing trousers, hanging freely around men, partying, and breaking moral codes by getting into fights. All this during the 1940s, a time where women were still expected to behave accordingly.
The term Chola further developed in the 70s. These women were closely linked to not just their heritage, but now to a more gang related aesthetic. During the late 60s and early 70s, street gangs were highly common within barrio communities. Many Chola women were either part of these gangs, or romantically involved with gang members.
Early 90s Chola Fashion
Early 90s Chola fashion was heavily influenced by the late 80s. During the 90s, in compared to previous years, Chola fashion evolved into a trend. Many American singers and actresses began interpreting the aesthetic into their music videos and performances as part of their ‘costumes’.
Gwen Stefani for example, was often seen interpreting Chola fashion into her 90s outfits. This received both positive and negative reviews; some Chola women were glad to see their culture represented within mainstream media. Others were offended and considered this a classic case of cultural appropriation.
In 1993, a film titled Mi Vida Loca was released that depicted in detail what the Chola lifestyle was all about. The plot revolves around a group of Cholas living in Los Angeles, their partners, young motherhood, and gang violence.
Ironically, the film was directed and script was written by Allison Anders, an American of European heritage. However, the movie was a huge success, and is rightfully considered one of the most iconic visual representations of Chola culture.
Mid 90s Chola Fashion
Mid 90s Chola fashion was categorized as a full-on revival of the best late 1930s and 1940s Chola fashion. Many trends came back. As per usual within the fashion cycle, young women gladly took them on as a tribute to the origins of their subculture.
Many of these women looked towards their family members like mothers, aunts, and older sisters for fashion inspiration linked to the past. The ‘beehive’ updo for example, that was prominent within the mid 90s, was originally worn in the 1940s. The only difference is that it was know styled to perfection using Aqua Net Hairspray.
References to the Virgin of Guadalupe became highly prominent in the mid 90s, not just because of their religious significance, but close links to Mexican culture and Catholicism within Mexico. Images of the Virgin were included in clothing, jewelry, and posters. She was praised and honored within the Chola community.
Late 90s Chola Fashion
Late 90s Chola fashion was influenced by the up and coming 2000s. At this point, Chola fashion was further developed and included within mainstream media, and instead of being an aspect that was excluded from society, it was included and invited with open arms.
The late 90s were categorized by a slightly hip hop influenced Chola look—baggy overalls, baseball caps, stripped crop tops, sweatshirts, and nude colored lipstick replaced rogue.
Types of Clothing
The most popular tops within Chola fashion were classic, white tank tops. An important aspect of Chola fashion was that it was heavily inspired by the Cholo menswear fashions. Masculinity formed part of the womenswear Chola fashion aesthetic.
Tight fitting tank tops were a classic choice, as were unicolored crop tops cut even shorter. Check out our 90s Crop Top guide. These could be worn alone in the summer or spring, and were often paired with a flannel button up plaid print shirt during the fall or winter. This also helped build up the fierce, ‘don’t mess with us’ attitude that Cholas represented.
Another popular trend included color blocked, stripped polo shirts. These were especially popular in the mid to late 90s, and usually featured beige of brown shades.
Bottoms within Chola fashion usually consisted of either jeans, khakis, or joggers—all very baggy and worn oversized. Popular styles included high waisted styles that were tightly cinched; the smaller your waist, the sexier you looked.
Chola fashion vastly varied within the footwear segment. This image shows an example of each of the following styles:
Some Latinas preferred to wear tough, masculine like sneakers from brands such as Nike or Converse.
Other women, more adapted towards the girly and feminine aesthetic of Chola fashion, preferred Mary Jane style shoes.
While stereotypes stated that Chola women were of low-income Hispanic social statuses, the truth was the majority came from low income families. Their limited budgets caused many to seek less expensive alternatives for their favorite trends.
For example, Chinese brand Mary Jane Slippers became a huge trend during the 90s. These were essentially cheaply made copies of the classic styles, imported and bought for less than half the price.
Another popular style of shoes were Huaraches. Huaraches are a type of sandal that originate from centuries ago, back to the era of Spanish colonization within North and South America. These shoes are symbolic representations of Mexican history and indigenous roots—and many Chola women in the 90s were wearing them consistently.
Chola Styles and Trends
There are many diversifications within Chola fashion; a much wider fashion style than what it may seem at first sight:
Vintage Chola Style
Vintage Chola fashion was centered around the idea of looking towards the past for inspiration, linked to the old school Chola. These women would borrow items from their mother’s closets to recreate vintage style looks, from decades past.
This worked very well, seeing as fashion is an endless cycle of repetition. Within Chola fashion specifically, old, seemingly used clothes were very well perceived. They added to this appearance of casualness, roughness, and strong attitude.
To recreate the vintage Chola fashion aesthetic, choose items that appear slightly worn out.
- Ripped fabrics pants
- Acid wash denim
- Dirty sneakers
- Oversized golden hoop earrings
- Some sort of jewelry featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe
Feminine & Girly Chola Style
The feminine & girly Chola style aesthetic was linked around the idea of being poised and careful within a society that was the complete opposite. There were small groups of women who did not enjoy the fearless, powerful, and rough attitude that other women portrayed. They portrayed Chola fashion on their own terms.
The biggest icon of feminine & girly Chola fashion was Mexican American singer and celebrity, Selena Quintanilla. Selena was the queen of Latino pop music in the 90s, until her untimely death in 1995. However, she will forever be remembered an icon of Mexican culture within the United States.
The style is recognized for combining Chola elements with elegant, chic fashion pieces such as:
- Flower print crop tops
- Flowy cotton dresses
- Pearl earrings
- Sequined fabrics
—overall creating a softer appeal.
Street Mean Chola Style
The street mean chola style was characterized by the stereotypes that society imposed among these women. With mottos like ‘don’t mess with us’ in mind, these women were intimidating, rough, rebellious, and scandalous.
They dated violent gang members, smoked cigarettes, wore extremely short skirts, and overall did not care what other people thought of them.
They often wore:
- Dark wash baggy overalls
- Bandanas – as decorations either on their heads or tied around their arms like cuffs.
These women had Latin heritage in their attitude, and represented much more than what they seemed like at first glance. Modern interpretations of the street mean Chola style include all the original elements.
Famous Brands Worn by Cholas
Chola outfits combine a sense of classic timelessness. Chola fashion has been repeated throughout each decade in accordance to new elements within the fashion industry. The brands used by Chola’s during the 90s represent the aesthetic very clearly. While not all the brands continue producing today, they are iconic and will always be linked to Chola attire:
Dickie’s—short for Williamson-Dickie Mfg. Co.— began as a small overall producing company in 1918 in a small town in Texas. The brand was officially established and titled in 1922, and enjoyed steady yet gradual growth throughout the years.
Overalls became an important aspect within America, especially among the post WWII society and during The Great Depression—a clear example of how fashion is linked to socio-economical movements.
During the 1990s, the company was heavily involved with Chola fashion. Ad campaigns featured themes of working-class individuals wearing the quality, durable overalls. Chola’s being a marginalized, working social class enjoyed these styles on the day to day.
Chola’s usually wore these overalls cinched at the waist with chunky belts, baggy, and oversized.
Locs Sunglasses is an eyewear brand from East Los Angeles that was established between the late 70s and early 80s. They offer a wide range of sunglass subcategories, including one titled ‘Cholo Sunglasses’. The products are praised for being high quality and having reasonable price points.
The name ‘Locs’ is derived from the Spanish “loco”—meaning crazy. The brand has become famous within the United States since the 90s.
Old school cholo women made these sunglasses trendy throughout the 90s. The classic model features a serious style, made for serious and intimidating personalities. The aesthetic matched the empowering attitude that Cholo women often acted upon.
The lenses themselves were darkly tinted. The brand is and always will be linked closely to Chola culture.
The most popular Nike product within Chola fashion were the Nike Cortez, a running shoe that was designed and released in 1972. These were the perfect addition to any garment, including a pair of Dickie’s overalls. Other Nike products were prominent within the Chola community during the 90s. It became a cult favorite.
The Joker Brand is a clothing company that was founded in 1995 by Estevan Oriol, B-Real, and Mr. Cartoon—all members of the Cholo community, of Mexican heritage.
The concept and brand DNA are based on Los Angeles street culture. All elements including its people, graffiti art, tattoo artistry and trends, and many other artistic visual concepts derived from the area.
The Joker Brand promotes the West Coast way of life, the area and communities among which the Cholas developed as a subculture. The brand includes tees, jackets, sweatshirts, among other products.
It’s linked to 90s nostalgia and recreates trends from the decade, incorporating them with modern concepts, all while maintaining the Cholo theme.
Converse is one of the most iconic American footwear brands of all time. It has achieved something many strive to do, but few achieve. To create a product that never goes out of style.
Decade after decade, style after style, Converse are always present. The brand was founded in 1908 in Massachusetts by American Marquis Mills Converse. Since then, the brand has evolved and located a permanent place within the market as a street style classic.
Chola fashion was no exception. Converse were vastly popular within this social group, usually preferred in the classic black shade during the 90s. In terms of style, either low tops or high tops were worn. The message behind Converse is linked to streetstyle and personality—both important aspects of Chola culture. It is no wonder these designer shoes were so popularized.
Gold jewelry was the most prominent accessory among the Cholas fashion aesthetic of the 90s. It was considered the ‘bling’ of Chola fashion. The most common gold jewelry pieces included oversized, thick hoop earrings, roses, religious imagery such as Virgin of Guadalupe statement pieces that were a sign of honor and respect, and letter or nameplate necklaces.
Jelly bracelets were another popular accessory. These were made of a jelly like plastic material, and came in multi-colored packets. They were stacked up and combined in accordance to your outfit.
These were especially popular among young girls, since older women and some teens thought them a childish accessory. These were loved for their easy use, durability, and wide color variety.
Belts were a popular accessory for Cholan fashion. Common types were simple and black, with silver or gold adjustable buckles. Popular trends included initialled buckles. Many women began wearing their initials around their waist, or sharing belts with their boyfriend’s initials.
Garcia low rider hats were another highly popular accessory. These were a smart accessory that was linked to Central and South American origins. They were usually worn in the same style; in beige colors, tilted to the side, and in casual occasions of use.
One of the biggest and most iconic elements of Chola fashion were the hairstyles. The most common included prominent updo’s referred to as ‘beehives’, slicked back buns, scrunched curls, and high tight ponytails.
Bangs became a huge trend within the 90s as well; they were long, separated by fringes, and of course, always coated in product. These cuts were usually blow dried with the effect of a voluminous finish.
The one thing in common all these hairstyles had was that they required a large amount of product. In accordance to Chola style—the more product, the better. They praised the greasy, no hair out of place aesthetic.
The product and brand of choice was Aqua Net Hairspray. While the brand is not as popular as it used to be, it is considered very iconic and linked to 90s nostalgia. You can still purchase a can of Aqua Net Hairspray today.
Another coveted hair product was the Tres Flores (AKA Three Flowers) Molding Pomade and Brilliantine. Both products from the Mexican origins brand created a glossy, oily effect perfect for slicked back hairstyles. Not a single hair will be out of place when using this. The product is very reminiscent of the Chola’s era in Los Angeles during the 90s and was the talk of the town for many years.
Makeup was an essential aspect within Chola fashion. Considered ‘war paint’ for these women, the makeup brands and shade range they preferred are used today to recreate these iconic looks. Eyebrows were plucked sharp and thin and lips were considerably overlined.
The Latin community, and specifically the Cholas have always been die-hard fans of Maybelline. Among the favorited products were the mascaras and the creamy liners, which they used to fill in and reshape their eyebrows, eyes, and lips. Maybelline has always been affordable yet decent quality.
Another favorited makeup brand was Revlon—preferred for their lipstick formulas. Among popular Chola makeup trends, where nude toned shades lined with darker colored lipliners for depth and dimension.
Brown lip liner
Wet ‘N’ Wild
Wet ‘N’ Wild was another coveted makeup brand within the 90s Chola community, who offered a wide variety of creamy lipsticks and lipliners.
Oh, and don’t forget the manicures
An important aspect was perfectly done manicures. Chola manicures revolved around the concept of acrylic nails—extremely long, colorful, and sharp. They were usually worn in a classic square shape. The most classic color was a baby pink nude shade, or a French manicure.
The Chola Attitude
The Chola lifestyle and attitude was heavily influenced by the discrimination and marginalization that this social group received within the United States throughout the 20th Century. The Chicano woman was made to be tough in order to survive among the societies she grew up in.
Stereotypical Mexican culture is led by macho men. This also influenced many women to toughen up and feel the need to leave stereotypes behind and rebel. They rode lowrider cars, and lived within their own world influenced by their families and past. They wanted to ensure others knew they were strong enough to uphold their communities and represent their heritage.
Chola fashion represents much more than a culture and lifestyle. It represents a generation of women who struggled to share and fight for their identity.
Chola women are strong, beautiful, proud of who they are, and will stand up for what they believe in above all else.