Camel toes and muffin tops. Back fat. Lucite heels a la G String Divas. Gold watches and teeth and rings for every finger. Logo whores to the hilt, Cubans want Ed Hardy, D&G, Kangol & Crocs, knock-offs or not. Converse high tops and low, whether you’re 7 or 70 (see note 1) – this is what folks are wearing these days in Havana.
Those of you who know me know my fashion philosophy, where Rule #1 is Form Follows Function. No open-toed sandals in the greasy, gross alleys of Barrio Chino, no heels for Habana Vieja’s cobblestone streets. Rule #2, loosely related to the first, is Nearly New is New Enough. Why buy new when there are Salvation Army and other thrift stores from Kona to Bangor selling perfectly good, new-to-me clothes?
All of this is to explain why I’m the last person qualified to play Fashion Police (see note 2), but folks who haven’t been to Cuba before or in a long time have expressed a certain intrigue with the threads, accessories, and trends here. You asked for it, you got it.
Tight & short Most foreigners go gaga when the get a load of las Cubanas working their Daisy Dukes that are so short and tight, the only word that comes to mind is: chafe. Closely related are micro minis. These skirts, (a misnomer since they’re no bigger than napkins), barely, just barely, cover the crotch. I’m tempted to play Mom to some of these girls, embarrassing both them and me by suggesting: ‘won’t you cover up a bit love? Men can’t be trusted with so little left to the imagination.’ Thankfully for everyone involved, I refrain. I also don’t tell them that in La Yuma, only working girls dress like that – another factor confusing foreign visitors.
All hail spandex! Gone are the days when women of all body types – up to and including carny sideshow size – roamed Havana’s streets in striped Lycra leggings. Nevertheless, the material still reigns supreme and you’ll see it everywhere. As I write this, moneyed matrons are power walking 5ta Avenida in fashionable yoga pants and chicks in skin tight Spandex, their assets emblazoned with ‘Sexy’ or ‘Hollister,’ are waiting for the guagua.
And then there are ‘jeggings’ which combine the two fashions Cubans are most passionate about: jeans and leggings. These days, jeggings are hotter than the gold chain a guy just tried to sell me on the street.
Denim, damn the weather Every once in a while people ask me: how can you wear jeans in that heat? My response is: how can’t we? For me, this is a quality of life issue. There is nothing like a great fitting pair of jeans to get ‘em hot and bothered and I can rock the Levis with the best of them. Sure, it’s a little uncomfortable in August, but the rest of the year? We suck it up.
One denim super trend which warrants ticketing by the Fashion Police however is the violation of the 11th Commandment: ‘thou shalt not wear jeans with jeans jacket.’
Congrís belly and butter face Not fashion per se, these two phenomena are rooted in the conviction and confidence possessed by most Cubans that I Am Hot. A long time ago my friend Jim, a musician, told me ‘the key to success is 95% confidence.’ That is, confidence compensates for any lack of gift or polish and this is a maxim Cubans embody effortlessly. Consider what I call ‘congrís belly,’ a commonplace and easily observable trait: gorgeous, lithe girls looking good enough to eat strut their stuff in jeans and skin tight camisoles stretched over (or almost but not quite) a pot belly. They’re ubiquitous these slim girls with guts, which I can only attribute to the voluminous amounts of congrís (and refresco, ice cream, white bread, and fried everything) Cubans so love.
The second phenomenon is the ‘butter face’. Striding along confidently on her spiked heels (what mom used to call ‘come fuck me shoes’), a Cuban woman stops traffic with her ass-of-a-goddess in skin tight jeans or body-clinging Lycra, complemented by her plunging cleavage. But get a look at her from the front and she’s got a healthy moustache, acne scars, and a mug only a parent could love. She is, in short, the classic butter face: everything is gorgeous but…her…face. This phenomenon seems to be taking on new dimensions as silicone breast implants become all the rage here.
Bigger IS better Cuban men, too, have their fashion faux pas. A flagrant one of late is the bagel-sized belt buckle. Is it just me or is the size of the buckle in direct inverse proportion to the size of the boner (cowboys notwithstanding)? It’s a ridiculous trend regardless, taken to new heights here with giant pot leaves, huge spinning dollar signs (“they spinnin’ nigga, they spinnin’!” see note 3), and scorpions. It’s funny this last, since I’ve never seen another sun sign represented. I’d love to see a young salsero sporting a giant Gemini buckle for instance.
The party line “Typical MININT,” my friend said to me the other day, giving the once over to a guy nearby. How’d he know so quickly and unequivocally the fellow was with the Ministry of the Interior? The checked button down shirt. It’s a dead give away, no matter the color or combination. A related standard issue is the striped pullover. These collared shirts usually come in muted stripes of blue, red, and grey and are favored by state workers – drivers especially.
Butt cheeks The urban trend whereby men show off their skivvies thanks to absurdly low slung jeans is taking Havana youth by storm. So what if the boxers say ‘Joc Boxer’ or ‘D&C?’ No, the bad counterfeit logos don’t bother me, but when I want to see your underwear, you better be ready to give me the Full Monty.
Got a favorite Cuban fashion? Give a holler.
1. Like everything else at Here is Havana, this is no exaggeration: my father-in-law rocks a very chulo pair of Chuckie Con low tops.
2. A habit I picked up from my insanely intelligent brother, he of incisive wit and observatory (and other) powers. R.I.P.
3. This is a classic Chris Rock joke I rarely repeat for obvious reasons, but every time I see one of these spinning belt buckles, I laugh out loud, Rock ringing in my ears.