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Bolivia’s Cholitas

Last updated: Monday September 24th 2018




Traditional clothing and style has been brought back to Bolivia in the form of the cholita. Easily identifiable by their bowler hats perched high on their heads, and full layered skirts of bright colors and beautiful stitch work, cholitas have become not only a feminist movement, but also fashion icons. The word cholita, derived from the Spanish word chola, was once used in a demeaning and discriminatory manner. Today, it has been reclaimed and these women are rising in status both economically and socially.

The election of Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first Amerindian president, brought greater recognition and independence for the native Aymara and Quechua people. From this shift, the young cholitas were able to secure freedoms previously denied. Often, these women would be refused entry into certain restaurants, taxis, and even public busses. Today they have not only shaken much of the discrimination they once endured, but have risen to become business owners, models and television personalities.  

The popularity of the bowler hat actually comes from a mistake made in the early 1900s.  The shipment was sent for the rail workers, but were either too small or the wrong colour (conflicting stories are told) so they were given to the women.  The women were told that it was worn by high fashionistas in Europe, making the bowler hat an object of desire by every Aymara woman.  

Along with the bowler hat, traditional hair, shawls, and skirts are also worn.  Long plaits are tied with tasseled cords, protecting their hair against the harsh altiplano climate.  The shawls, called mantas, are usually tasseled and fastened with a brooch.  Colourful petticoats layered under the heavy pollera give the women full skirts that accentuate their movement during traditional dances.

These women have embraced their culture that was once repressed, and have risen from poverty and oppression into leading roles in the working world and within the social ranks.  Though more progress must be made, these women are working towards social and economic equality in Bolivia.

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