Tag Archives: lycra

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

The Virtues of a $5 Haircut

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I know, I know. You get what you pay for. But I’ve had some very good Cuban haircuts for five bucks. Unfortunately, Paco pissed me off so royally some years ago, (for non hair-related reasons), I swore never to return. And I haven’t. Yo sé, yo sé. Cutting off my nose to spite my face (seems like my penchant for quotes, axioms, and aphorisms is carrying over to this post). I also got a tolerable $2 cut in the Merida market.

But I hold the Cubans to a way higher standard than Rosa in the Mexican mercado. Cubans have what we call “swing” here in Havana – a kind of tropical taste and sensibility that’s captivating in a smutty, unsophisticated kind of way. We’re talking Spandex, Daisy Dukes, and Lucite stilettos (usually all at once), plus Dolce & Gabbana knock-offs so bad the t-shirts look like they say D&C – which is something else entirely.

Nevertheless, there’s a strata of Cuban women who favor linen over Lycra and maintain some seriously stylish ‘dos. These fashionistas led me to the private-salon-that-shall-remain-nameless in question. The owner had lived abroad for nearly a decade – surely some of that sabor internacional had rubbed off. Indeed, the salon was the fanciest I’d seen here outside of a five-star hotel: there were fat issues of not-too-outdated French Vogue lying around and the two stations were crowded with expensive Italian product. There was even a professional hair washing sink – improperly mounted so it gave you a wicked crick in the neck, but it was the first I’d seen in a private Cuban salon (see note 1).

Needless to say, I was encouraged as I flipped through Vogue and the owner lathered up my husband’s voluminous locks. I noticed the framed photos of hot hair models on the walls, the professional photo lights standing off in a corner awaiting the next shoot, and the matching, logo-emblazoned aprons worn by the owner and the hairdresser (see note 2). I did notice, however, that Anabel – henceforth referred to as ‘the hairdresser from hell’ – didn’t have a particularly attractive hair cut herself. Red Flag #1. And she was steamrolling my husband (no small feat) with her opinions about how to control his wild child hair – most of which involved expensive product. Red Flag Número Dos. When he rose from the chair looking like the bastard child of Prince Valiant and Ronald McDonald, I got that sinking feeling.

I admit I have a bit of a Sampson complex. No doubt it took root at the age of 8 when my unlovable grandfather thought it a good idea to take scissors to my head (cocktails were surely involved). With a few quick snips, that viejo wrecked my third grade and threw my fledgling self-esteem askew. This is the same man who locked me (briefly) in the trunk of his car and told my mother (his daughter), that her ‘life would improve immeasurably if she got serviced by a man.’ Since then haircuts have made me uneasy, queasy even – as if I were headed for the stirrups and speculum instead of the snip, snip of the salon.

I also remember when I was 11 or so, Laura – the tough talking, coke snorting Italian broad who cut my mom’s hair in Manhattan – refused to cut my hair again after I unleashed a string of invective on her (see note 3). Years later, as an adult no less, I made Honaku cry when I lambasted her for the ‘generic white girl bob’ she had just given me. I didn’t care how swanky her downtown salon was – I let that poor Japanese stylist have it.

So I’ve got a bit of an historic problem with the hairdressers. And it doesn’t matter the cost or country. From Guatemala to Greenwich, two dollars to a hundred – I’ve bitched and bickered about haircuts no matter the place or price. (No wonder hippie philosophies so appeal to me).

And it’s not about the cost, though the pragmatist in me much prefers to pay $25 or less for something that a) takes all of 15 minutes and b) should be done every 4 to 6 months – although Havana’s hairdresser from hell recommended every 2-3 when I asked (Cubans can be such shameless capitalists). At the same time, I’ve got this wacky idea that paying more should translate into higher quality goods and services. Honaku proved me wrong on that one with her $110 bob and Havana disabuses me of the notion on a daily basis. From where you’re sitting, I’m sure $5 sounds outrageously cheap, but consider this: that’s more than a week’s salary for the average Cuban. Who in their right mind would pay a week’s salary for a haircut (see note 4)?

And now, five dollars later, I’m living yet another haircut nightmare. I was going for rock ‘n roll. Unfortunately, Richie Sambora wasn’t what I had in mind (see note 5). Serves me right: when you want a ham and cheese sandwich, you don’t go to a Kosher deli and when you want cool, you don’t go to a hairdresser with Julio Iglesias on the hi-fi and the Playboy bunny logo blanketing her ass. I think the BeDazzler also might have been involved somehow.

All right. I’ll stop. I know it’s all relative and we have Honduras, climate change, and health care to worry about. But I’m damn glad I had the author photo for my forthcoming book squared away before the butchering and thank god hair grows. Until then, I’m avoiding mirrors and embracing hats.


1. Usually hairdresser here just spritz your head wet and get to cutting. That’s how Paco handled it and though his ‘salon’ was just a chair facing a mirror in a crumbling Centro Habana walk up, the man had moves. The “spritz and go” method was also employed by Javier, another fantastic hairdresser who had no salon but something better – he made house calls, all for $5.

2. At this point, I should have been mindful of some of my other favorite sayings: “all sizzle and no steak”; “all hat, no cattle”; and as we say here “más rollo que película” – literally “more roll than film.”

3. They say cursing is a sign of limited vocabulary, but I’ve found it can be quite effective in the hands of a writer, even at the tender age of 12.

4. Apparently a lot of people are willing to pay this. And a whole lot more

5. I always wanted to be a guitar god, but not necessarily look like one.


Filed under Americans in cuba