Proyecto Runway: Parsing Cuban Fashion

[tweetmeme source=”connergo” only_single=false]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.


Filed under Americans in cuba, Cuban customs, Living Abroad, Travel to Cuba

86 responses to “Proyecto Runway: Parsing Cuban Fashion

  1. Sam

    Don’t forget color coordination to the extreame ! Ive seen girls dressed literally head to toe in yellow or pink…from hair clips down to manicured toenails.

    One day my boyfriend call me while I was in Havana. He was so excited to show me his new outfit ! he showed up in head to toe adidas ! A hat, germany adidas soccer jersey, track pants, shoes (of course) even his socks were adidas ! He told me he left the adidas sunglasses at home. I cracked up laughing, couldnt help myself. He got this dejected look on his face, I had to switch track…”oh baby I mean, I love the new pants, they look great” Later I had to explain that in yuma most people dont whear that much logo.

    And finally, my favorite was a women I saw at Parque Lenin who had an amazing mani-pedi of the crystal beer logo on her thumbs and big toes ! Again, this was an opprotunity to teach the novio about the concept of “tacky”….a term he had never heard before.

    • Oh yes the color combos! Chartreuse and orange are hot right now. And the nails, shit! totally forgot about the acrylic talons now so hot here. These claws are so huge, women who work at cash registers have to use magnets to grab change off the counter!

      Too funny about Adidas boy! Luckily, he’s cute enough to pull it off. 😉

      Tacky – that might be chea or cursi in cubano. Readers?

  2. zoe

    And why do you love this country Cuba? Your last few posts seem kinda down on the country and culture. Sounds like one big ghetto island.

    I agree though, one of the things I noticed on my trips to Cuba was how materialistic the people seem. I wonder if the communist system, ironically, produced a people obsessed with money, and “brands” etc. The old cliche, if you don’t have it, you want it more than anything.
    I never cared much for fashion, certainly not anything as silly as brands, the status notion of it repelled me, and in Cuba believe it or not, I factually felt awkward. People wanted to know how much I made, and looked me up and down, checking out what I was wearing. I felt uncomfortable; under dressed some how. As if I was expected to show off. I also noticed a Cuban obsession with looks–phyical beauty. It seemed like women, particularly, were judged mostly by how good looking they were. First thing anybody inquired about when talking about a woman was–is she pretty? Whats up with that?

    All this materialism–I hear the same thing is happening now in China. Its all about showing off your wealth–they are obssessed about wearing the right brands, etc. Its capitalism on steroids. In the end, is this what Marxism produces?

    • Thanks for writing in – you give me opportunity to elaborate on a few things. First, the situation is tough over here right now. This is reflected in my posts – I aim to call it like I see it. The Cuba of past is going to be just that in many (but not all) ways: nostalgia. Im feeling it, this unstoppable tide that tugs at our shore. It aches, I write about it.

      Ghetto island? Not sure why you draw that conclusion except for the fashion bit and well, seems the brothers got it going on. Otherwise would so many globally adopt the styles?

      Deprivation of brands and “stuff” is definitely a factor, but so is Miami – that city that take gross ostentaion to new heights. Folks are pouring in from across the Straits with all the fashion and culture impact that implies. I should also clarify: this, like all my other posts, doesn’t apply to each and every Cuban, it’s a generalization, a stereotype – which exist precisely because they apply to a large group, generally.

      Looking good: this is a cornerstone of national pride. Even the poorest folks scrub their “tenis,” press their shirts to go out (even if they only own one) and make sure they smell and look good down to the last toe nail and piercing. The up and down stare/once over you mention is a particularly potent weapon in the Cubana’s arsenal: Ive had some fierce stare downs over here! Unnerving.

  3. 007

    Mija querida de verdad your mom le decía así a los zapatos aquellos? Jajaj, me cagué de risa! Muchos cariños, se los extraña!

  4. Cherie

    I have no idea how I stumbled upon your blog, but thank god I did!
    Every time your updates arrive in my inbox I get ready for a good laugh but this one took the cake – Cuban fashion is incomprehensible unless you see it with your own eyes! I’ll admit, I’m surprised to hear that the larger ladies have moved away from lycra?! Last time I was there, the rage was lycra singlets that were actually fishnet style over the stomach – making much of the female population look like strung Christmas hams!
    Your blog rocks!!

    • That makes two of us (giving thanks that you found HIH) – your image of the Cuban Christmas ham gave me a good laugh! The fishnet tops are still raging here, especially as we head into the warmer months. And you are so spot on: incomprehensible unless you see it with your own eyes (and not only the fashion, eh?).

      Thanks for reading!

  5. I loved this. I’ve never been to Cuba but, from your descriptions, I already built up a picture in my head of those fashions. Haha.

    It would be interesting if everyone put together the fashion faux pas of where they were right now. Here in Wales, we have the beauty that is track suits with high heels, gold hoop earrings as big as you can find them, knuckle-dusters …. But then again, that’s more of what ‘chavs’ wear.

    The huuuggge craze amongst my fellow British young woman now is to look as fake as possible. (Seriously – it’s not even a whispered fakery. People are proud to be fake.) Hair extensions, fake eyelashes, fake nails, boob job … and, of course, the more orange you can make yourself look, the better.

    (I’m one of those rare ivory coloured people amongst a gathering of oompa loompas. :P)

    • First, any reader who mentions oompa loompas in their comment wins a virtual cafe cubano from me. Love this image! Second, love the little folk but I’m quite frightened by this trend you mention towards oompa loompa-dome and fakery: seriously? The faker the better? That is very very scary to me who is au natural probably to a fault.

      Track suits with heels? That’s wrong on SO many levels. For us dumb yanks, what’s a ‘chav’?

      • Hehe. Ummm, how do I explain. I guess a ‘chav’ is the British equivalent to … yikes, I don’t know what you’d call them in the US. Essentially someone who refuses to work, lives on government benefits and in council houses, has about 4 babies by 3 fathers at the age of 21, and does nothing but drink cans of cider before noon and wear really really cheap nasty jewellry (gold sovereign rings on every fingers – whether you’re male or female – is a must) and, like I said, track suits. Track suit bottoms and tank tops that barely fit for the women – In fact, your ‘congris belly’ essentially described what ends up happening there.

        Unfortunately fakery is an epidemic that’s hit the UK bad. :S In the smallest villages, the ‘essentials’ that you’ll find are a newsagents, a post office and a tanning salon. It’s sad. The programmes we have on TV now are all about ‘make-unders’ because everyone looks like an oompa loompa. It’s crazy!

      • Very funny about the tanning, especially given the post on this exact topic that showed up on the Lonely Planet Cuba forum today.

  6. A chav is a lumpen proletarian – somebody from the “underclass”.

    It’s not only the young women showing off their pot bellies. The bigger the belly that the man has, the more likely he seems to be to roll up his vest or t-shirt in order to expose it and cool down.

    When I pointed out to my girlfriend that generally in the UK it was considered poor form to expose a huge belly, she explained that in Cuba there is less stigma associated with being fat. In some ways it is a status symbol – it shows that you can afford to eat well. If you’ve got it, flaunt it!

    • Yes Leytono! The huge, but HUGE beer guts of some Cuban men – seems to be prevalent among drivers of ‘almendrones’ (those old yank tanks) especially!

      Your gf is right, less stigma w being fat (indeed, a fat baby is the one most everyone wants, going to extremes like feeding infants the water used to cook rice to fatten them up!), but there are SERIOUS health risks. Cubans, young and old, men and women, are now facing an obesity epidemic, with over 30% of the population being overweight or obese. Anyone interested can hit up MEDICC Review and search on obesity.

      Here’s one article to get you started.

      Thanks for reading and writing in. Lots of Cuba-knowledgeable folks hanging out here today – I likes it!

  7. viajera

    Hey Connor – your sartorial analysis is as finely-cut and elegantly tailored as the political and travel stuff – what a great post. As a Limey with Cayo Hueso connects I can tell you that ‘chav’ is roughly what Cubans call ‘repartero’ – or USAnians sometimes call ‘ghetto’ – it’s roughly “blingy, expensive, namebrand-wearing member of the underclass”. Lots of controversy results – does using this label automatically make you a Big Snob? maybe … but it’s a popular tag all the same.

    About the belt buckles: after one unfortunate romantic entanglement I was NOT pleased to see one young Cuban man who’ll remain nameless wearing a soup-dish-sized enamelled buckle, hanging low right over the crotch area, and emblazoned with the words ABIERTO 24 HORAS. I resisted the temptation to see if he’d have been open to the idea of a swift kick in the nuts…

    • As another HIH reader says: incomprehensible unless you see it with your own eyes. To wit: a soup dish sized buckle reading OPEN 24 HOURS. Im telling you guys – only en la Habana! thanks for the hearty laugh Viajera.

      OK, repartero I understand. This is what in NY we call ‘the bridge and tunnel crowd.’ Something along the line of suburbanites technically but maybe hick would be a closer approximation. Oh Big Snob, Environmental Fascist, Not Nice, A Witch – I’ve been called it all!

      Your commentary about the quality of this post (see my response to Julio en espanol) is taken very much to heart – I know you know Cuba very very well. Thanks for the virtual tip o’the hat!

  8. Julio Garcia

    Coño Conner..este post le cambio la cara a esta mañana..que manera de tener claras las cosas muchacha!! Un saludo desde Texas

    • !que bien! Sabes que tenía medio sobre esta “muela de moda” por que, bueno, tiene sus cositas de la realidad que no todo el mundo quiere reconcer. Así que tu comentario me estimula mucho. Gracias! Un saludo desde la Habana linda.

      • Julio Garcia

        La realidad es un dato, como me decian en la CUJAE…keep going girl, UR “cronicas” are very welcome…planning my trip to NY..something that is not in the guides that I should visit?

      • Ay, uds de CUJAE, pegan como un macao!! Gracias por tu palabras.
        I suppose most everything is in the guides, but Id suggest: the Highline, walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, hanging in Central Park’s Meadow, and checking out Danza Contemporanea de Cuba (May 10-22 @ Joyce Theater). Have a great trip!

  9. Hmmm I know it is funny to mock but you need to balance things in this post. I am not Cuban but I think if I was I would be a little insulted at this albeit very humorous tirade against Cubans lack of sophistication on the dressing front.

    IN my opinion the most badly dressed people in the world —— DO NOT COME FROM CUBA!

    I am an unashamed London fashionista! But definitely not the kind that wants to wear labels and I do not mind jeans but consider them a lazy fashion opt out (boring boring boring) and rarely wear them myself. I understand that on this continent that is unbelievable! And yes in Europe we wear converse too! But with our inimitable style. I hope you wouldn´t mock us.

    In fact I find style and classy creative dressing in the most unlikely places in this part of the world! And I have seen some of the most timelessly stylish women. I am sure a lot of these discerning stylish people exist in Cuba too. I want to hear about them!!!

    It seems you are mocking the bad taste that has been exported to Cuba from the US presumably via Miami or wherever else bad taste may reign. (Ali G´s West London Ghetto look??!!)

    The packa here in Central America could keep anyone happy if you have the time and the eye to shop but tell me how good is it in Cuba?
    I will make it my mission when I arrive in Cuba to find the well dressed Cubans and write about what is uniquely Cuban and stylish. I hope it won´t be as hard as this post suggests ……………..;-)

    • This is satire (or my stab at it). No balance needed, thank you!

      I do not mean to imply that all Cubans are alike – this is one of the myths out there and I applaud you for pointing it out. Cubans are super creative in their dress and getting the look they want (keratina is all the rage here now) but there are limitations. Money is one. Access to fashion mags/TV/internet or fashion images in general is very, very limited. So folks who are “well dressed” usually have access to $$ and media that the majority don’t. The exception to this rule are seamstresses — my neighbor’s Singer is going strong as I type this and she’s damn stylish! I’m sure you’ll find many “well dressed” people like this if you look in the right places (eg Miramar).

      As I said earlier: this is a generalization, a stereotype, which exist precisely bc they do apply to the majority.

  10. Ro

    Very funny post! As a fellow observer of fashion a lo cubano,
    a few agreements and contributions:
    Yes, tacky=cheo. One of the most “cheo” aspects of fashion here is “brillo” — shiny metallic EVERYTHING, not just teeth: nails, shoes, purses, appliques on tank tops, sunglasses, hair ornaments — and this includes guys: on the P-1 the other day I saw a guy with a baseball cap completely covered in what looked like mirrors from a disco ball! Talk about shiny…
    Agree about looking good a matter of dignity. One of the ways you can immediately spot yuma tourists is that they often wear dirty and/or torn clothing & dirty shoes and eschew deodorant. This is a generalization but most Cubans would not leave the house with dirty shoes or a hole in their shirt, much less un-perfumed underarms, even if it’s to go to the corner store.
    I don’t think brand obsession is that new. If I’m not mistaken, in the late 80s/early 90s THE jeans to have here were Lee, and giant namebrand basketball sneakers had their day too… I think it goes way back, to before the revolution, the permeation of U.S. marketing and brands here, for everything from clothing, to cosmetics to food and appliance brands, I could go on and on about U.S. brands-turned-into-Cuban vocab (Frigidaire,quaker,etc).
    Sorry to make this so long, but it’s such a fun topic, and i just wanted to add two more things:
    The look-up-and-down thing is not limited to fashion or “beauty” — people also stare at your shopping bags, trying to x-ray them with their eyes to see what’s on sale (part of the never-ending scavenger hunt for everything, never leave the house without a “jaba,” because you never know what you might find and “hay que aprovechar” etc).
    Finally, as you said, there’s an exception to every rule: also popular here, especially in Havana, is the hippie/artsy/”intelectual” look: afros (for girls and boys, black or white), linen/bambula (cheesecloth) tops and bottoms,
    lots of metal/wood/shell jewelry, natural-looking sandals (as opposed to purple plastic wraparounds), and usually no makeup, plus the obligatory tapestry or South American woven sling bag.

    • You guys are rockin’ my world today with your contributions. Awesome stuff.

      Name brand-iness definitely predates revolution as Ro points out (to Frigidaire and quaker, I’ll add Fab or Fa’ as we say here). For those of you in Havana, you can get a look at this obsession in big format at Juan Moreira’s new exhibit “Hit Parade” at Villa Manuela, the gallery attached to UNEAC (17 y H). What’s interesting – and I didn’t point out until now bc I do not want this conversation to devolve as they tend to! – is that one thing Marxism has never been able to resolve is the need for beauty in life and the natural human condition of desire. This is a great shortcoming in Cuba where people are very house proud and take great pride in their personal appearance.

      Do not get me started on the “hippy” trend. Anyone can wear the clothes asere, but to live it, therein lies the rub!

      Thanks for contributing.

  11. Val

    This post totally made my day! Thank you so much!
    My friend visited Russia last year and came back with severe “boob-leg” overload. He loved it!
    I think that looking good (by whatever standards) gives Cubans sense of power and control in otherwise powerless environment. Don’t you think?
    I also wanted to ask you, if you do not mind, how competitive are they when it comes to looks?
    Thank you and please keep posting…

    • Thanks Val. Im no sociologist but I think this predates the revolutionary govt and any kind of powerlessness that may imply (and I don’t necessarily ascribe to this theory) but history shows high glamour during many periods like the Jazz Age when Havana rivaled New York. Perhaps I should re-read some Louis Perez – particularly On Becoming Cuban, the definitive text in English on Cuban identity.

      Not sure what you mean by competitive? This whole concept has been vilified for so long I don’t think it’s that. For instance, Im not sure the woman-on-woman once over is competitve per se – more like a mixture of curiousity and assessment in the sense: could I work that? Im open to other theories though!
      Thanks for reading

  12. I am no stranger to satire, in fact entirely the opposite.
    But I think this is about your third satirical post about the Cubans´ bad taste. SO I am assuming this bad taste thing is like a plague right now. As long as the Cubans are laughing as much as the foreigners, then I have learnt one great thing about Cubans. They must have a great sense of humour and a fantastic ability not to take themselves too seriously. If they can handle others laughing at their lack of sophistication and take it with a large pinch of salt. Good for them! I will enjoy hanging out with them I hope……

    But the big fashion question. When over a million Cubans took to the streets last week to support the revolution what fashion look was dominating the crowd???? Ed Hardy, bedazzler, bling, addidas ensembles, big belts, fat squeezed into lycra or was there a counter consumerist look going down in the streets ?

    • This is such a great opportunity for me to point out for those of you who don’t know: Cubans have THE best, most perverse and pervasive sense of humor. This is how they’ve been able to survive all that has been heaped upon them from Velázquez to Helms Burton, Cason and La Loba Ros-Lehtinen. They indeed have a “fantastic ability not to take themselves too seriously”.

      Cuban jokes are legendary. To wit (excuse the pun):

      – Why is Fidel like an onion? Because every time he opens his mouth, you cry.

      – Why are the prostitutes in Pinar del Río pissed? Because they found out the whores in Havana are charging (sorry my Pinarena friends: Ciego Campeón!)

      – And this, circulating right now:
      Rummaging round the Communist party’s central committee headquarters building in Havana, Raúl Castro finds an old lamp. Curious, he gives it a rub. A genie emerges and offers two wishes. “Only two?” asks Cuba’s president. “Yes,” replies the genie. “Times are tough. We’ve cut back.”
      “I’d like you to turn the Hotel Nacional into gold so I can sell it and pay off Cuba’s debts,” Raúl tells the genie. “Impossible – I am a genie, not a magician. You have one wish left.”
      “In that case,” says Raúl, “I’d like the Cuban system to become efficient and productive so we can emerge from the crisis.” The genie’s response is heavy with resignation: “Where was that hotel again?”

      Got a favorite Cuban joke? Let her rip

      • Candysita

        Jokes from the Eastern provinces (the “other” Cuba):

        What do you call a tienda with no line?

        If Chavez loses the election, how will we light our homes?
        Cocuyos! (fireflies)

      • thanks for these chica!

      • Candysita

        Another joke (You asked for them)

        During Pope John Paul’s visit to Cuba he met with Fidel. “Hijo”, the Pope said, “the diet of your people troubles me. I would like to see them eat more chicken.” “OK” El Commandante says. “I will give each family one chicken per month”. “Oh”, says the Holy Father. “That is not enough, they will still be hungry.” El Cabayo says, “OK, two chickens per month.” “Still not enough” says J.P. Exasperated, Fidel says “I will give every person one chicken per day!” “Perfect” says the Pope. Three days later as the Pope is leaving Cuba, walking up the stairs to the plane, he leans over and whispers in Fidel’s ear, “My son, I have something to confess to you: There is no God.” “That’s ok,” says Fidel. “There are no chickens!”

      • Yes, the Papa’s visit generated a lot of jokes (many having to do with potatoes; papa means pope AND potato here). Thanks for ýours! My favorite however, goes like this:

        Fidel and Pope JP were cruising along the Malecón in the Pope Mobile (the Papa Movil!) when the pope’s hat flew off and into the sea. As it bobbed its way along the harbor, Fidel told his visitor: “don’t worry! I’ll retrieve it.” He then proceeded to walk on water to get the pope his hat. The next day, newspapers around the world reported on the incident. Granma, the offiicial paper of the communist party here proclaimed: “ÏTS A MIRACLE! Fidel Walks on Water!” Meanwhile, the official Vatican newspaper, L’Ossematore reported: “Pope Performs Miracle! Fidel Walks on Water. And then there was this, from the Miami Herald: “Proof! Fidel Can’t Swim!”

    • Sorry one more thing: last week, as we made our way at 6am to the Plaza, a young woman stepped from a tourist car in a short black dress and spiked heels, handed her purse to her pimp and began her ‘walk of shame’ as thousands of us – dressed in jeans, jeggings, lycra, net camisoles, fake boobs and bling, Ed Hardy caps and tshirts reading stuff like “Tony’s Gïrl” with a picture of a ball and chain – ebbed and flowed around the out-of-place couple. Im not making this up folks! Lots of Adidas too, always!

      PS – the photo on the header with the woman squeezed into her jeans with a modest (by current standards) belt buckle, was from that morning.

      • I remember on a May Day march in Havana a couple of years ago, I was in the compound for foreign guests at the foot of the Marti memorial and was watching the crowds come past. One middle aged woman on the march was shouting “Viva Fidel! Viva Raul!” with particular fervour, whilst dressed in a t-shirt with a slogan saying (in English) “Sexy Babe”. Only in Cuba

      • Sexy Socialism! Sexy Solidarity! No one does it like Cubans, that’s for sure.

        As usual, I’ll be in the Plaza for dia de los trabajadores. I’ll take lots of photos and post em on the Havana Good Time Facebook page.

  13. sam

    You have to appreciate that at least socialism in Cuba isn’t all olive green…they have plenty of fuchsia, aquamarine and crimson to balance it all out 🙂

  14. I wish in Chile we had an expression for “work it” like in the US. We don’t see nearly as much bling and pants squeezage and belt buckles here, but the muffin top is alive and well, mostly due to ill-fitting pants and the “marraqueta belly” (marraqueta is our daily bread, like french bread, and Chileans tend to be apples more than pears).

    Always entertaining. And anyone who thinks you’ve corssed the satire line should try expatting anywhere for any length of time. Extra points for Cuba, of course.

    • Hola and gracias Eileen! Yeah, the satire thing: I just got a copy of a “Modest Proposal”and am being influenced! Readers should give thanks that Im not suggesting eating children to improve the global economic lot like Swift did in this brilliant piece. No wonder he wrote it under a pseudonym.

  15. Firstly, satire is one of my favourite things ever. It is an art form, that in this modern world is often all we have to arm ourselves against hypocrisy and blandness. Believe me I could rip most people´s dress sense apart in a second in the most wicked and brutally honest way. I have to stop myself accosting people in the street and taking them for an emergency make over as their taste and inability to wear what fits them offends me.

    HOWEVER, what makes me uncomfortable is the ancient sport of the middle classes (or whatever you/we want to call ourselves these days) mocking those who they seem to consider beneath them for whatever reason. In this case, based on what Cubans want to wear. I have read some really nice descriptions here of chavs, unemployed, publically housed underclasses from Wales to Habana. Which makes me think it is a class thing, Cuban or not. Maybe I am wrong.

    Lets face it, we all do it, but why? Does it make us feel better about ourselves? Is it just the lack of beauty we find offensive, as some people have inferred? Are we making a social comment? Or is it just a really easy playground way to make people giggle? And yes making people laugh is a noble cause. And maybe I will be laughing my way all around Habana when I arrive watching what people are wearing but will that make me feel good or bad about them or me?

    Leytono, loved your comment about the T Shirt. One day my neighbours kids (four wild boys) came round to play with my sons and two of them were sporting their new T shirts from the packa admittedly both of them good quality and nice colours. One of them said ¨Having a bad PMS day¨and the other “Proud to be Texan I vote for Bush”. I kept sniggering every time I bumped into them running round the house. I think it could be a great competition to find the most inappropriate T shirt slogans.

    • I think this is being taken all too seriously – it’s fashion after all!

      And (didn’t think I need to but), Id like to clarify: I do not, in any way shape or form, think “Cubans are beneath me.” After nine years of living here, seven of those years dedicated to covering the Cuban health system in an intelleigent, compassionate, and evidence-based way for MEDICC Review, and two years of blogging about all the good (and not so) that Ive experienced here, I have put my heart and soul towards helping Cubans, no matter what they wear.

      But don’t listen to me. Anyone with any doubts can scroll through the comments and tweets, of this and other posts, and read what CUBANS are saying about what I write. Making them laugh is a compliment and not something many foreigners can do.

      !Viva la moda, sea chea!

  16. For anyone who has any doubts about dubious fashion trends here, check out this full page article about acrylic nails in today’s Juventud Rebelde (a full page in an 8-page paper – this is serious business)!

  17. John Abbotsford

    Your joke re the genie also heads an article on the Cuban economy earlier this week in the Financial Times
    As for the article on the artificial nails my wife’s response on reading it was
    “Creo que tienen mucha razon, a mi me encantan como se ven las uñas acrilicas, pero cuando me las quito mis uñas naturales son un desastre!” so this Cuban took it seriously!

  18. Loved reading this. I didn’t see it as insulting… I got a sense that you are endeared by the Cuban fashion habits rather than being judgmental about them.

    I saw some of these trends in person, and I’ve seen similar trends in other parts of Latin America, especially Brazil. I can only applaud people for being so comfortable with themselves. In California, I find that the skinniest most beautiful women still find something to beat themselves up about. They’ll say to their other skinny friend, “I’m so fat. I wish I could pull off that outfit, but I can’t.” It’s so unproductive.

    I love it when cultures are not bombarded with ideas about US/European standards of beauty and style. I wouldn’t necessarily call different ideas of fashion a “faux pas”, but I get where you’re coming from with your amusement!

    • Hi Ekua. Thanks for the astute comments. Brazil and Cuba have a lot in common – popular education, rhythm in their blood, sexual friskiness – and I agree with you completely. It’s refreshing to live somewhere that the emaciated junkie runway model isn’t the ideal body type. Here, the ass has always ruled over ‘the rack’ though the classic Cubana that drive men wild is the guitar shaped woman and many are achieving that with silicon implants. this is the kind of ‘culture creep’ that worries me! (I personally believe inserting silicone into your body can’t be good)

      And I do believe the dinner plate sized belt buckle is unfortunate, whether in Kansas City or Cayo Hueso.

      Happy travels!

  19. I could see it all, even without photos! Again, a great read, especially since I’ve just moved to another country again (Moldova) and fashion and dress style is always a subject of great entertainment and or embarrassment when landing in a new environment.

    In the US where I (Dutch person) spent the last couple of years I looked reasonably put together next to the sloppy dress of many there (stereotype, yes). One day later in Moldova I feel like a frumpy housewife next to all the spike-heeled, manicured, dressed-to-kill women here. So it goes.

    I love your blog and have listed a link to one of your posts on my latest post: FUN ABROAD: 10 Fabulous Expat Blogger Stories

    The link is here:

  20. Emily

    i love your blog. every post is so well written, hilarious and i think accurately portrays life in Cuba. rather than some made-up version! one thing i’d like to add to the fabulous break down of cuban fashion is jean leggings! in addition to the craze of lycra and leggings, when i was abroad there in ’09 it seemed like jean leggings were all the trend. i was also extremely shocked upon my return to the U.S. to find that jean leggings were popping up everywhere i looked. cuba seems to be behind on some things in comparison to the U.S. like technology and fashion trends, but i was pleasantly surprised to find that they were actually AHEAD on this one, no?

    keep up the great writing!

    • Hola Emily. Thanks so much for your encouragement. Hilarious may be overstating it, but glad to hear Im hitting some kind of funny bone. “Jeggings” – a wardrobe staple over here at this point!!

  21. RL

    I always thought the US equivalent of chav is trailer trash?

    Anyhoo. I still remember to this day this 20-something Cubana in her fire engine red party dress with openings & knots everywhere with lacquered hair, full on make up & the fuck me shoes, at 5 am in the Havana airport. I give her props for getting up very early to get all dolled up, & give her more props for god knows how many hours she had to sit on board with such an uncomfortable dress.

    • “I give her props for getting up very early to get all dolled up…” or staying up all night and still looking fresh as a daisy. As I’ve said: no one does it like las Cubanas!

  22. dany

    I’m Cuban, living in Canada and I laughed when I read your post. Cubans have always been very interested in fashion, as I remember my mom telling me stories about her aunts in the 50s copying clothes from french and american magazines, buying fabric using their meager maid salaries and taking the fabric to a costurera and looking fantastic. If you read Renee Mendez Capote’s chronicles “Memorias de una cubanita que nacio con el siglo”, you’ll see that in the early 1900s haute society ladies went to France and New York to have their clothes made and that sense of fashion trickled down to the poorer Cubans.

    And now basically, it’s not knowing any better. To me it was perfectly normal that the uniform of the women in the MININT was what I now see as a mini, now I see them at the airport in their army minis and I cringe.

    That said, it’s true that after the “comunidad” in the 80s started coming back to Cuba, the taste for anything shiny, tacky, en fin cheo, was more prevalent. We had lots of miami cubans with HUGE gold medallions hanging on their chest, all the while dressed in a striped polo t shirt and pleated pants. Growing up all women went to the hairdresser and the manicurist on the weekends and took care of their own nails, after 2000 it was fake nails everywhere.

    Add to that the fact that Cuba is a closed community, where people only copy what they see in Univision (and have you seen the presentadoras en univision, with tetas and piernas out there?!) and in colombian telenovelas.

    On the other hand as someone said above, there are the intelectuales,sometimes pseudo intelectuales or rockers, the ones who go to Varela concerts (Silvio en mi tiempo),X Alfonso o 3 de la Habana when they were still in Cubayou have the “mikis” or at least that’s the term that was used in 2006 when I left the country. They are the well-to do children of musicians,gente con dinero, people who can travel, etc, who dress in Converse, brand jeans, nothing shiny,nice clothes that are expensive even here in Canada. Then you have the fake rastafaris who are always in Old Havana flirting with female tourists.
    You also see that the way people dress even divides cubans here, there are those who still dress the same way they did in Cuba, you see them in salsa clubs and parties, men all dressed in white, gold chains, logos, cuban flag tshirts,women in tight capris or jeans, lots of decollete, make up,etc. Many of them still have the “mentalidad cubana”.
    As for me, as a cuban woman I was raised to always look nice, hair done, clean nails, shower every day,sometimes twice, the ubiquitous (sp?) “jarrito” next to the toilet to wash in the mornings, always clean clean clean. When you live in a society where, if you take the guagua and you stink,somebody IS going to say something (“Caballeros, desodorante!!”) then you try to make yourself look good even to go to the mercado. (I wish I could say that to some canadian women, en serio)

    • Dany – mil gracias for writing in. I haven’t read Mendez’ book but that’s fascinating about turn of the century couture and las cubanas. I don’t have canales, so I haven’t seen Univision pero puedo imaginar! Yes, los ubiquitous mikis – I haven’t heard the term in a while but the trends still continue (except now add to the Converse, brand jeans, etc anything Apple).

      What you say about personal hygeine and being well groomed and smelling nice – spot on!!! It’s incredible how lovely everyone smells (even in July on the guagua). The only times when I’ve wanted to gag is getting on a packed, hot camello when it’s raining outside. Yikes! And the jarrito! You have given me many ideas for new posts – just yesterday I was reflecting on the uselessness of toilet paper. What more than a jarrito does anyone need?

      Your observations are very welcome here D – especially because Ive been considering the idea of talking to Cubans who have emigrated to the US and Canada to do a kind of compare and contrast bw my experience here and Cubans’ experience there. Think it could be interesting?

  23. Epic.

    Although, much flinching.

    1) Can someone, anyone, explain why denim and lycra are so popular in hot climates? When you’re sweating your spondoolies off in the midday sun, at what point does being shrinkwrapped into thermally thrifty layers appear the sane way to do? Am I just being a bit too English here? Where’s the flapping thin cotton garments that generate their own breeze when you walk? Does denim behave differently at different temperatures, like superconductors? WHY?

    2) Baggy jeans that expose enough rump-cleavage to park a bicycle? Should be a capital offence. And will be, when I’m in a position of world power. I’m sad this kind of fashion criminality has reached Havana. But all I need is your vote, at the right moment, and we can fix this – everywhere.

    3) Enjoyed this immensely. Need to call by more often. Will.

    • Mike, I can tell you’re a guy after my own heart. Ive always said when Im in a position of world power, I will take two immediate measures:
      1. We will have 48-hr days
      2. No white people w dreadlocks (this is getting tricky since my step son now sports them; Ive registered my dissent)

      Thanks for stopping by. Do so more often. I guarantee more Sweating Spondoolies (can I name my band that?)

  24. Sorry I took a while to stop by again. I’ve been busy leading the Revolutionary Forces.

    Stage 1 (“the 48-Hour Freedom Day”) went well – we’ve taken the observatory at Greenwich and we’re currently retrofitting GMT so it lasts longer. This should have a knock-on effect going round the world as various timezones start bumping up against each other and overlapping, and it may destabilize governments and fracture economic systems and generally get a bit hairy for a while. The airlines are bitching, for example. But look – when the dust has settled, airline marketeers – you can now advertise that a flight from London to Sydney is *half a day*. Think it through before you start whining, ‘kay? Sheesh.

    In terms of Stage 2, the war against caucasian dreadlocks, well, that’s not going so well. There’s a whole army of them that have taken over Portland, led by Newton Faulkner who, it turns out, is a crack shot with a bazooka.

    But trust us. And give us time. We’re on it.

    • “it may destabilize governments and fracture economic systems and generally get a bit hairy for a while”

      Oh sure. The Middle East/crash of capitalism is MY fault then? Next you’ll be blaming me for the Tea Party, Snooky being on the cover of Rolling Stone, and Dylan’s cowardly China set.

      Newton Faulkner is not known in these parts but Im guessing he’s where gravity meets the deep South? While I can’t vouch for his aim, I would counsel a haircut – those dreads are causing mangy bald patches as I type this.

      Viva my POV!

  25. quepasa

    Ay, Cuban fashion, or rather the lack of it. 😉 Fashion is supposed to change is it not,… but in Cuba: “siempre lo mismo, no”? Bling, bling, short, short, trashy, trashy ( maybe somebody would say sexy, but I prefer to call it “pimp and hooker style” ), no offence though, to everybody his own, right 😉
    Every time I had spent some months back in Europe and gotten back to my good old north European way of living and dressing and the time came to make the suitcase ready for Cuba, it was the old conflict : “should I take with me something elegant and nice according to my taste, or should I bring “Cuban style”. I am a yuma, can’t change that, I have an European body, tall and slim, ( no big ass, helas), so why not go European all the way, and be proud of it. ! But after years of having loads of “European fashion” that I didn’t put on after all the: ” a no , no te ponga esto…. “, I am glad that Cuban fashion does not change! I carry bling, bling, and short, short, and it does not even fill up the suitcase.


    • hahaha. Yes, I know what you mean! my wardrobe has gotten tighter, shorter and more “cubana” since Ive lived here. Recently I went shopping and had to keep reminding myself: “age appropriate clothing, age appropriate clothing” and “not too tight/small/short”. Makes traveling light easier, you’re right!

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  29. Nahby

    Haha. I have to say, I have only read about two posts and I’m loving your blog. It is great to have insider information and point of views from other than a Cuban in the island. Now, as a Cuban living in the United States for almost 12 years I can tell you, Cubans in the island don’t know how to dress AT ALL. I came here when I was 13 years old…going on 14, and only with time do Cubans start to learn how to dress tbh. Yes, it takes time trust me. I’ve seen people who have been living here a couple of year and still dress matchy-matchy from dress to toe…:/…Seriously, do you have to really dress with the same color from head to toe?? Humm…colors are fun, play with them!! Oh well, can you really blame them?? More than anything I think Cubans tend to be a little too eccentric, combine that with the lack of “stuff” in the island and you get what you get.

    • Welcome Nahby! Thanks for stopping by and writing in.

      Yes! The matchy-matchy obsession is quite the….cubanilla. And we’re not talking about the folks haciendo santo dressed head to toe in white – this has a purpose. We’re talking neon orange or lime green from head band to flip flops or come-fuck-me shoes (yesterday I saw a pair of electric blue suede shoes asi). Or how about the couples that dress matchy-matchy? Dios mio!

  30. Gabriel Grenot

    Good morning Conner : What can i say ?
    it’s true cuban people are obsessed with beauty and fashion , but i really don’t think it’s the whole country and also don’t think every one in cuba has the choice to wear what they want. pero se ponen lo que le llegue .

    • Yes, you’re right — not everyone has the choice to wear what they want, but shoes that you can’t walk in (saw a girl tottering along a broken sidewalk just hours ago on too high heels) are never the right choice, in my opinion. but I’m a substance over style, form follows function kind of gal…

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  32. Lando

    My personal fave is the length of the government employee skirt– that which is a solid 2.5 inches above where every. woman. seems to stop waxing her legs.

    • Yes! I always advise new arrivals to check out the scanty/soft porn-esque uniforms of Cuban female immigration officers. In all my travels I’ve never seen such micro minis and intricate fishnets. Nurses and cashiers in la shopping also favor this fashion. Yay Cuba!!

  33. Tanja

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. All of 2011 (while studying in Havana) my girlfriends and I have had these conversations and observations in my kitchen in Vedado. But nothing comes close to your ability to describe Cuba and it’s fashion. I personally use the term “hooker-chic” to describe the uniqueness of Cuban fashion. But shock horror have seen some “hooker-chic” items creep into my own wardrobe of late. Obviously I will only wear these items in Havana and not in Ireland for fear of the labeling I would be subjected to. I look forward to seeing what new trends have hit the streets in June when I return……

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  37. This post made me laugh out loud (like most of your others!)
    Not exactly fashion, but damn have you noticed those jonkies are taking over Havana right now?….html

    • Hola GG!! I couldn’t open your link but I assume you’re talking about those absurd haircuts – now ALL the rage here, inexplicably – we called low top fades when I was still a young thang?!

      Im not sure which is more ridiculous – the actual cut or the name (Ive explained to my cuban friends what a junkie is – this is how they pronounce it – since there are none here). Ive tried to ascertain the etymology of the word as relates to the haircut but to no avail.

      Ive been thinking about doing a fashion follow up post (since this one has proven so popular) and talking about jonkies, faux-hawks and other funny ‘dos (and dont’s). Thanks for motivating me!

      • gschrubbe

        Hola! Oh no, if try it on my website I have an absurd amount of pictures of those haircuts- I was endlessly entertained by taking pictures of the different styles and naming them.
        I’m not sure what the origin of that awful cut is but I think it might be similar to the “teach me how to dougie” thing in America- some say it’s inspired by this fine young man:
        I can’t wait for your fashion follow-up post- I know it will be just as hilarious and amazing as all of the other ones!

      • thanks for the addl links – however the internet is awful here (46k dial up and particularly prickly today, don’t know why).


      • gschrubbe

        Oops forgot about that! It’s the music video that might have originated the trend. I’m sure you haven’t escaped the song from “El Jonki” singing about his jonky- I think all cab drivers are obligated to blast it…
        My Cuban friend’s theory about the origin of jonkies is widespread lobotomies in Cuban males (and a few females). I think that’s the most likely explanation.

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  39. Awesome issues here. I am very happy to look your post. Thanks so much and I’m having a look forward to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?

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