Saturday, 23 November 2013

Cuban Fashion: Tight, Bright and Sometimes Blindingly White

This month's travelling took me to Cuba, for a week of sunshine, museum visits and surprisingly nice beer. Whilst not everything was plain sailing, particularly as I was robbed on my first day in Havana, I did have plenty of time to check out Cuban style and try to define the looks that locals tend to go for. Here are the Havana fashion notes I came up with.

Havana portrait of old man selling food by a market 
A street seller sporting a denim shirt.

  • Showing how totally unaffected they are by the heat, locals wear loads of denim and quite often will be seen in warm hoodies or cardigans. Meanwhile you'll be struggling to cool yourself down in skimpy layers and looking for the nearest bar with air con - all part of the experience! 
  • Despite the unrelenting heat, lycra and polyester make frequent appearances in the wardrobes of Cuban women. They favour skin-tight clothing and are not ashamed to show off their figures, whether they're a size 6 with a glaring thigh gap or size 20 with a little more to love. You're most likely to find leggings in candy pink or turquoise teamed with stretchy vest tops and boob tubes - think Jane Norman and Primark in the UK.
  • In markets you'll see plenty of leather bags, sandals and belts, not just in tan but in a wide range of colours. If you've got money to burn then they make great souvenirs (or presents for yourself).

Young man in sleeveless top beside the water in Havana 
A striped headscarf makes an appearance.

  • Headscarves are worn by both men and women and they tend to be very colourful and patterned. Hats are popular too, but headscarves are a better choice for surviving the often strong tropical winds that blow through the city and avoiding a ruined hairdo.
  • Sweat doesn't seem to be a problem here - however synthetic the uniforms of officials, you're lucky to spot one moistened brow, let alone an emergency requiring copious amounts of Right Guard. However, if you're from the UK, you'll be the one doing enough sweating for everyone, so it's essential to invest in mattifying moisturiser, lightweight layers of clothing in cotton and linen, a decent deodorant and plenty of sun cream, which should be applied regularly.
  • Unlike my visit to Thailand, where locals proudly showed off designer labels and recognisable brand names emblazoned on their t-shirts, from Jack Daniel's to Prada, Cuba is clearly less exposed to designer culture. Clothing may have slogans or intricate designs, but it won't necessarily have a brand attached; many items are plain or carry a simple pattern. As a visitor, you should be mindful of the animosity between Cuba and the USA and try to avoid packing items covered in blatant US slogans or logos, such as the US flag (plus you don't want to draw attention to your tourist status!). 

Hair scrunchies in bright colours

[Image via]. 
The scrunchie makes a comeback here...
  •   Women wearing uniforms add a touch of personality through their tights, which can be anything from lace print to fishnet or leopard print; the only rule is that the tights have to be black. Another area of self-expression is their nails, where crazy colour combinations and patterns reign supreme, and their hair, which can be adorned with 90s-era accessories like flower-shaped clips and scrunchies in bold hues.
  • Some ladies ditch the skin-tight bright outfits in favour of a blinding all-white ensemble in cotton, with tiered maxi dresses or wide skirts and lacy white vest tops, finished off with white pumps or sandals and a co-ordinating parasol. This type of clothing is widely available on market stalls and in the small shops lining Obispo.
  • Wearing white for fashion is not to be confused with a national protest movement known as the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco), campaigning for the release of 75 political prisoners held by the government after voicing their views about human rights. The women wear white to Mass each Sunday and walk through the streets to promote their cause.

So, that's pretty much Havana style in a nutshell. If you've ever been to Cuba and you want to add anything to the list, let me know by leaving a comment below. I'd love to hear your tips!

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