The Fashion of a Mexican Painter
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was a distinct figure in the history of art. She was unique and original, talented and gifted, and above all, stayed true to her Mexican roots.
Applying color not only to her artwork but her life and sense of dress, she fashioned a world that extended beyond her paintings. Through the clothing that she wore, her vivid personality was brought to life.
Identity of Style
From the wardrobe to the easel, Frida Kahlo's self-portraits were, at once, a mirror of what she was feeling and wearing – a reflection of both the internal and external perspectives of her existence.
Kahlo greatly appreciated handmade garments and favored those of a more traditional nature. Frequently wearing Mexican peasant blouses, she also appreciated floor-length skirts which featured decorative embroidery and lace detailing on fabrics of silk, cotton and velvet.
Frida chose to wear long skirts out of necessity (to disguise a deformed leg) and as a means of honoring Mexican custom. She plaited her hair in the traditional Indian style and intensified her appearance by adorning herself with flowers.
Frida wholeheartedly embraced her femininity on canvas and in her marriage to muralist, Diego Rivera. In juxtaposing her outfits with brightly colored shawls, ribbons and jewelry, Frida created her signature style.
Icon of Tradition
Having an individual sense of attire was a source of self-empowerment for the artist. At one with her creative source, Frida Kahlo was not fearful of expressing her artistic power nor her connection to Mexican culture.
Her passion for her home country and the Mexican Revolution fueled her choice of clothing. As her paintings suggest, Frida took it upon herself to look her heritage, paint it and be it.
"In her self-portraits Frida Kahlo usually shows herself wearing simple, unsophisticated clothing or in Indian costume, whereby she expressed her identification with the indigenous population and thus her own national identity." (Kettenmann, p. 26)
Frida's inspiration mostly came from the Tehuantepec region – an area in the southwest of Mexico. Known for its matriarchal ways in life, "in the twenties and thirties Tehuana costume was adopted by many educated Mexican city women. It perfectly matched the growing spirit of nationalism and the revived interest in Indian culture." (Kettenmann, p. 26)
Inspiration also came from the mythical and colonial aspects of Mexican history. Artifacts of pre-Columbian origin had a profound impact on the subject matter she painted and her style of dress. She collected many pieces of pre-Columbian jewelry and often wore beaded necklaces from that era in her paintings and out in public.
Legacy of Life
Frida's stance of wearing traditional costume in public made her an unforgettable sight. While she faced inner and outer turmoil in her life, she is, herself, an inspiration for many books, articles and films today.
Decades after her death, her popularity – as woman, artist and fashion icon – continues to attract audiences and fans world-wide. Her beauty, artistic accomplishment and inner fortitude are incomparable.
Her style . . . one of a kind.