Life is a Circus

Cholitas: Changing the world one Pollera at the time

Las Cholitas: how the indigenous women of Bolivia are turning tradition dress into a symbol of pride.

For decades, the indigenous Aymara and Quechua women of Bolivia could be identified by their traditional mode of dress: hi bowler hats, puffy shirts, skirts, shawls and petticoats. They wore their long black hair in braids. They were called “cholas,”or, more affectionately, “cholitas.” This identified them as members of indigenous communities who were often employed as servants, and, sadly, discriminated against.

Photography by Luisa Dörr

Today, following years of grass-roots activism and evolution, Cholita fashion and dress are being re-appropriated as symbols of pride and power by the indigenous women community who are taking their rightful place in society.

Aymara and Quechua women proudly dress and wear their hair in the traditional manner to assert their identities. This is occurring while new generations of Bolivian women overcome prejudice to assert themselves as lawyers, artists, professors, government ministers, and more.

Photography by Luisa Dörr
Photography by Luisa Dörr

The movement has become so impactful that Cholita fashion shows have begun to be staged in Bolivia, and high-end Cholita fashions greatly prized. Where Cholita dress was a marker of low social status, it has now become a symbol of the fashion forward, as designers re-invent the colourful traditional garb associated with the strength and confidence of women who were the heads of their households. Indeed, some high-end Cholita fashions have become so expensive that women are obliged to save money to purchase them.

Curiously, there is no male equivalent to Cholita fashions in Bolivia. For now, it is the sole province of women, who are claiming it as their own.

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