Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>Cholo subculture
Subjectcholo 'marginal' gangster
Culture: Mexican-American / Chicano
Setting: low riders, American West Coast / South
Evolution1854 Californio bandido > ... > 1943 Pachuco gangster > Cholo subculture

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Huff ed. p56-57 (James Diego Vigil & John M Long, "Emic and etic perspectives on gang culture: The Chicano case" p55-68)
"Among the longest-lived youth gangs in America are the Chicano barrio (neighborhood) gangs of Southern California.  In some Los Angeles barrios, for example, established street gangs have maintained a continuous presence for more than half a century; they have become virtually institutionalized.  The continuity of these barrio gangs stems from the same conditions that initially gave rise to the gangs.  Throughout the decades, large numbers of poor and poorly trained Mexican immigrants  -- with and without permission -- have been drawn into Southern California.  Each new wave of immigrants has settled in or near existing barrios and created new ones.  It is in these barrios where ecologically, economically, and socially marginal links to the larger society are established.  Thus each new wave of immigrants provides a new generation of poorly schooled and partially acculturated youths from which the gangs draw their membership.  Most of these youths do not, in fact, join gangs.  Those who do, however, have significant and lasting effects in their neighborhoods and beyond.
    "The gang subculture that has evolved in the course of these developments is embedded in and representative of the larger cholo (marginalized) subculture to which large numbers of Chicano youths (especially urban youths) subscribe.  In many regards, the cholo subculture is but a variant of the tendency of teenagers and even preteens in other communities to establish separate behavioral norms and distinct symbols. With new clothing and grooming styles, slang, and so on, this 'image' helps distance them from older generations, thus enhancing and facilitating group autonomy and bonding.  Additionally, the cholo subculture functions as a source of identification for Chicano youths with problematic acculturational experiences.  Especially important is the break with Mexican-American traditions, and their tenuous status and role behavior pattern within the larger Anglo-American culture.  The core membership of the gang -- what Vigil (1988) has termed the 'regular members' -- tends to come from among those cholos with the least attachment to the behavioral roles available to them in either Mexican-American or Anglo-American culture." [references omitted]

* Fremon 1995 p25
"Mexican street gangs have existed in L.A. since at least the 1940s when adolescent pachucos of the zoot suit generation used their flamboyant style of dress to stake out identity, as family dislocation and despair invaded the city's barrios during World War II.  In the intervening decades, the pachucos morphed into big, multigenerational cholo gangs -- like White Fence and El hoyo Maravilla.  Yet, except for Primera Flats, which has been around since mid-century, the majority of the gangs of Pico Aliso sprang up in the middle 1980s after the young African American gangsters of South L.A. began to deal in narcotics, and the accompanying new plague of violence began bleeding east.
    "Since Mexican-American gangs are traditionally territorially based (for cholo gang members, the word 'neighborhood' is used to mean both gang and territory), the sudden proliferation of new gangs created an unprecedented Balkanization effect."

* Huff ed. p126 (James Diego Vigil, "Cholos and gangs: Culture change and street youth in Los Angeles" p116-128)
"[T]he [Vietnam] war robbed the barrios of yet another generation of positive role models.  This void was tempered somewhat by the government's efforts to combat poverty and choloization with many social programs.  Although these efforts were short-lived, there was a noted improvement in the lives of cholos and gang members, especially curbing of interbarrio youth violence.  Concomitant with these events was the Chicano movement, which brought attention to the overall plight of the Mexican-American people, particularly the long-suffering barrio populations.  Many cholos and gang members joined such efforts and rechanneled their frustration and rage with some success toward the body politic -- namely, schools and law enforcement, two institutions of social control.
    "It is no coincidence that gang violence mushroomed in the aftermath of these events, for choloization did return to replace the War on Poverty, and street models began to reclaim their turn from activists and lead new generations of barrio youth.  Gangs and gang membership have expanded since then."

* Kontos/Brotherton/Barrios eds. 2003 p17 (Avelardo Valdez, "Toward a typology of contemporary Mexican American youth gangs" p12-40)
"Chicano gangs are distinct from other ethnic gangs in their style of dress, language, gestures, tattoos, and graffiti.  Vigil (1988) claims that the Chicano gang lifestyle is embedded in and representative of the larger cholo subculture to which many Chicano youth subscribe.  This cholo subculture has its roots in the 'pachuco' lifestyle of the 1940s and 1950s.  The cholo lifestyle is related to what has been described as 'defiant individualism', carnalismo (brotherhood), and machismo (masculinity).  Many Mexican American youths outside the gang arena adopt the cholo subculture.  Unfortunately, the adoption of such styles by these nongang youths invites the gang member label from school and law enforcement officials.  This parallels urban Black 'gangsta' styles that are being adopted by mainstream popular youth culture."

* Berrios 2006 p


* Street 2021-05-17 online
"The cholo subculture is contentious. Even among some Mexican Americans, the street-wise aesthetic that was birthed in East Los Angeles's Chicanx community can get derided for its resistance to white American assimilation and its loose affiliation with gangsterism. [....]
    "Traditionally, the cholo look is typified by workwear basics, like clean button-down shirts and oversized Dickies. The khakis in particular are worn with tight belts that cinch the waist and create pleats. The backs of the pants are often pinned up so that they don't drag on the floor."

* Berrios 2006 p

​* La Ferla 2003-11-30 online (describing cholo style in New York City)
"'Cholo is definitely bubbling under in a big way,' said Rodrigo Salazar, the editor in chief of Urban Latino, a magazine for young Hispanics. Adopting its provocative insignia -- low-slung chinos, bandannas folded low on the head and florid religious tattoos -- is a way for some young Latinos to register pride and to stake a claim on their own culture, Mr. Salazar said. And lately some of those gritty elements have seeped into the fashion vernacular of non-Latinos as well.
    "New York University undergraduates swagger down lower Broadway affecting diluted variations: neatly folded bandannas, T-shirts emblazoned with the Virgin of Guadalupe and 'Mi Vida Loca' slogans printed in ornate gothic letters, pants cropped at calf length or shorts worn with white socks pulled up to the knees.
    "On Christopher Street, weekend revelers club-hop with their trousers festooned in chains, their buzz cuts all but obscured by cholo-style hats or ''brims,'' characteristically creased once at the center and turned down at the rim."

* Cristof 2019-08-15 online 
​"Since the beginning of lowrider time, fashion has gone hand-in-hand with the pageantry of cruising. There’s a heritage uniform of sorts for cholo lowrider style: monochrome oversize t-shirts, bandanas tied just right, and dark sunglasses made personal with some defining flair. 
    "These days, lowrider style also runs the gamut from contemporary streetwear (I spotted Balenciaga, Gosha Rubchinskiy, and plenty of Gucci) to zoot suits and pin-up girls."