My last post got a fantastic response – over 25 comments, and many of you have signed up to the Sewalong. A sewalong, for those who haven’t had a go before, is an opportunity for a group of people to work on a similar project and to share their ideas, learning and results. By working together (virtually) we can help each other and compare notes, and at the end I will bring together photographs of us dressed like Frida!. There will also be an Instagram hashtag #dresslikefridasal. OK!
I have already gathered a few resources for you and I don’t want to overwhelm anyone. This could be quite a big project. So I thought I would outline the “programme”, so you can see when I will deal with each subject. I will post every Tuesday for the next seven to eight weeks. I know some of you want to make a Huipil right now! I sympathise sister! I have made two already. This is a very exciting project for many of us. My excuse is that I need make a few things in advance so I can offer useful advice and guidance for those who are less confident or experienced. I suggest you just pause for a week and have a think about what you are going to do, and make a little plan.
Week 1 (17 July): General discussion on Frida Kahlo’s style, influences, and the main wardrobe items. You can start making relevant items, but having an overall idea of the outfit before you start is a good idea, especially with regards to colour. I suggest you use this week to think about how you would like to look, and to gather suitable materials such as fabric, sentimental items, yarn, braid, and any small items you want to incorporate. For example I have a little cat bell that I have to get in somewhere (Frida had them on her shoes).
Week 2: (24 July) How to make a Huipil – potential patterns, and for those who don’t want patterns, just the measurements, and suggested construction methods
Week 3: (31 July) Embellishment – for your Huipil, skirt or shawl
Week 4: (7 August) The skirt
Week 5: (14 August) The head-dress
Week 6: (21 August) Shawls, jewellery, make up and styling
Week 7: (28 August) Final discussion, learnings and hopefully some photographs. With dogs, monkeys, or even rotund muralists. The choice is yours! There are likely to be a few people who take a little longer – if so I will do a second photography post later in September.
Week 1 Frida’s Style
Firstly have a look at images of Frida herself. There are many photographs of her throughout her relatively short life. Her German father was a professional photographer and she was frequently photographed; in love, in bed, in her corsets and naked, and even after death. And in most photographs she is dressed up. She presents herself as an object, in a very particular way, for the viewer to appreciate and enjoy. Despite her poor health, painful conditions and significant disabilities she always dressed artistically and deliberately. She arranged (and, at one point, cut off) her hair; she wore make up, jewellery, fresh flowers, and extraordinary clothes, many purchased especially from the Oaxaca region where indigenous people, many of whom do not speak Spanish, have a wonderful range of folk traditions, including textiles and embroidery. Frida was especially attracted to these fabrics and styles and incorporated them into her everyday wear. Frida’s mother was Mexican and she already adopted many local looks, and made clothes including for the young Frida, using elements from Mexico’s indigenous and traditional styles.
In addition to the marvellous photographs, including for Vogue magazine, there are of course paintings. Frida’s subject was more or less herself, and most of her work is the self-portrait. These are the most telling and intriguing artefacts we have to consider, and these add depth to our understanding of Frida’s dress and appearance.
When you look at these image take in the attractive colour combinations Frida created. Look at the proportions and balance she achieved. The full hair and decorative elements on her head balance out the fullness and length of her outfit. Consider if you want a similar silhouette or if you are going to do something different to ensure the elements of the outfit suit your figure and colouring.
Look at the fabrics you will use for the huipil and the skirt. Are they good together? They may match, or co-ordinate, or may complement each other in an interesting way. If they don’t really “go” is there something you can do with your trimmings or by introducing a new printed element to draw them together?
Finally don’t get completely caught up in the Mexican aesthetic. Frida looked marvellous in jeans and a cardi, with a gingham blouse. And a monkey. We are trying to take something of her spirit and style. We want something we can wear at home, or to go out in, not Fancy Dress (I’m not stopping you if that is what you want to do, by the way – but my main intention is to adopt something of her artistic creativity in dressing for our contemporary lifestyles, rather than just taking her influences and copying them).
I have put together a Dress like Frida Pinterest page.
Whose culture is it anyway?
Interestingly, but understandably, some of my North American friends are sensitive to any possible accusation of cultural appropriation if they were to dress up in Mexican styles. I don’t think there is the same anxiety in the UK. But in any event most of the elements of Frida’s style can be seen in just about every folk tradition, so you may wish to pick something closer to home.
I have Welsh ancestry, and of course a Welsh surname. Here are some Welsh outfits that share many of the elements we see in Frida’s dress. Long full skirts with aprons or overskirts, lace, locally woven fabrics, short blouses, wrap jacket or shawls, mixed fabrics and patterns, and elaborate head-coverings. (I love the nonchalant knitting too!)
You will find lots of similar ideas across Europe – German, Swiss, Danish, Spanish, Romania, and Russian folkwear all undoubtedly contain a range of very similar elements. Here are some girls from Brittany, in Northern France, wearing versions of their traditional and colourful, regional dress. There are flowers, ribbons, strong colours, hand-made lace, layers, gathered skirts and uniformity of silhouette.
Of course there are versions from India and African countries too – here are just a few historic and modern interpretations.
You may notice large, showy jewellery, locally produced fabrics, print and pattern mixes, long oiled hair with centre partings, full skirts, T-shaped tops. Frida was appropriating traditional elements of her own national dress – why not discover what your ancestors wore and see if you might include an element of two in remembrance of them? Helene is going to research French Québécois traditions.
How would you sum up Frida’s wardrobe style? Is there anything particular you like about Frida’s style? What are you planning to make? Are you going to bring in some sentimental or vintage items? Do you have extraordinary elements you are dying to use? Do you have a colour scheme in mind? Have you pulled together your own fabrics and ideas? If so please share below or on Instagram (use our hashtag #dresslikefridasal) or Pinterest. And if you want a free Huipil pattern in the meantime, here is one that the V&A prepared earlier. I’ll suggest a different approach next week.