How ‘Levanta Cola’ Colombian Denims Formed Early Aughts Latinx Style

The resurgence of ’90s and 2000s style has grow to be an simple and pervasive pattern, thanks partly to Gen Zers who’ve made it their job to carry again archived items like micro-mini skirts, heavy lip liner, and zig-zag hairstyles. Now, add musician Kali Uchis to the checklist of these reviving seems to be of yore: she launched her denim model Bodied by Uchis’ Obsesión line this summer time, and the bedazzled, curve-hugging denims beloved by R&B woman teams like Future’s Little one and 3LW are poised to make their comeback, too.

Those that lived by way of the early aughts may bear in mind the denims that marked this period: low-rise, bootcut, generally frayed, with intricate stitching, rhinestones, and embroidery. Mariah Carey wore denim of this type in her “Heartbreaker” music video, they had been Shakira’s chosen mainstay, and Christina Aguilera couldn’t get sufficient of them, both. Out of this Y2K style staple got here a pattern specific to South America, which originated in Colombia: the uncompromising “Colombian Blue Jean,” a method that ultimately modified your complete denim business in Latin America—and the world.

The unique Colombian Blue Jean had very particular defining options: they had been at all times boot-cut and low-rise; most didn’t include pockets, and had been comprised of a stretchy, spandex-like material (suppose jeggings), with distinctive embroidery, appliqués, and, in some circumstances, shiny rhinestones. Most significantly, this type of denim was made with butt-lifting expertise referred to as “levanta cola,” which creates the looks of a much bigger cola (an endearing time period for “butt” in Spanish) through its stretchy materials and strategically positioned embroidery, which outlines all the suitable locations. A fast search on TikTok of the #LevantaColaJeans or #ColombianJeans hashtags reveal rows of largely Latina girls flaunting their enhanced colas and cinched waists. On Google, you’ll discover a listing of small-owned companies throughout New York, Miami, and Southern California promoting the specifically designed denim—you possibly can even purchase a pair from distributors on WhatsApp.

The precise date levanta cola denims entered the market is unclear, however its rise in recognition goes again to the ’90s and early aughts, simply after the arrival of cable TV entered Colombian households’ properties. This was a time when hip-hop tradition had gained international recognition; photos of early iterations of the levanta cola blue jean are harking back to Black and Brown girls’s style aesthetics from the 2000s. The influence of Black and Brown artists on traits and kinds of that point spans generations and has had no borders. The denims in the end turned a staple in Colombian tradition that (actually) formed denim put on—and it’s a tradition that may be very a lot nonetheless alive and thriving to this present day.

Whereas within the States, such kinds of Y2K denim had been critiqued as “cheesy” and “low cost,” its predecessor in Colombia owned the eye. And it was the Colombian blue jean that impressed Colombian-American vocalist Kali Uchis’s new denim line, which includes a fierce marketing campaign with Lourdes Leon, during which the duo wears tight denim denims, white tanks, heavy eye make-up, and thick lip gloss, recalling the aughts whereas concurrently channeling traits of at the moment. Uchis says the road is a nod to that bygone period, and is symbolic of “that individual everybody sees down the road as a result of they stand out. These denims are for the people who find themselves happy with who they’re.”

She sees Obsesión as a celebration of the physique and her personal love for denim, which Uchis provides stems from her Colombian roots. Though she tells me she’s been excited to see folks of all completely different shapes, sizes, and genders loving the denims, she will be able to’t assist however discover others who’ve left degrading feedback in regards to the denims trying “low cost” or like a “pulga” (“flea” in Spanish) on the model’s Instagram account—a lot of whom she believes are Latinx themselves. “It’s an internalized self-hate of remembering once we would put on these once we had been youthful and having this stigma in our tradition and heritage,” Uchis says. “The style business may be very classist. Individuals who use the phrase ‘low cost’ are bizarre to me. These are good supplies, what makes them low cost? As a result of it’s a Latina [wearing them]? As a result of it’s Colombian? It’s humorous, the wording used round Latin kinds…this can be a lovely factor for the Colombian economic system.”

Uchis’s evaluation will not be far off. Colombia is the most important exporter of blue denims in South America. In 2021, the exportation of Colombian blue denims reached $14.7 million, with predominant customers within the U.S., Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Canada, Peru, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Germany. Yearly, about 50 million pairs of levanta cola blue denims are fabricated within the nation; their manufacturing has created a complete economic system for Colombia that goes past espresso, gold, and the outdated (and intensely stereotypical) commodity related to the nation: cocaine.

Jillian Hernandez, writer of Aesthetics of Excess: The Art and Politics of Black and Latina Embodiment and professor of gender, sexualities, and ladies’s research analysis on the College of Florida, lately purchased a pair of Obsesión denims. She says the acquisition makes her really feel like she’s reclaiming part of herself that struggled with racist concepts about “what aesthetics had been good, which aesthetics had been style, and which aesthetics weren’t,” she tells me. She recollects rising up “devouring” magazines like Vogue and seeing particular photos in style that had been deemed “acceptable” (most of which didn’t embrace the Levanta Cola blue jean, apparently sufficient,) and remembers pondering, “Why would I need to affiliate with these racialized, working-class aesthetics when every little thing within the tradition is telling me that what issues is what’s in magazines?” Proudly owning a pair of Colombian denims in 2022 not solely turns into a means of taking that energy again, however Hernandez states it’s additionally a means of supporting the shift that somebody like Kali Uchis could make proper now. “She has this mainstream consideration and folks, girls of coloration like her, are being acknowledged by style," Hernandez provides. “It seems like our aesthetics are lastly being appreciated.”

I additionally struggled because the baby of a second era working-class Colombian household who needed to really feel empowered by her tradition, however didn’t know what that appeared like in a predominantly white, upper-class neighborhood like Cambridge, Massachusetts, my hometown. I typically felt ashamed by my mother’s aesthetics—the darkish, lined lips; the gold hoops; and the tight, bedazzled denim. The reality is, I had additionally internalized magnificence requirements of a rustic that traditionally didn’t embrace or characterize girls who appear like me. Again in Colombia, it was empowering to see girls proudly owning their type—strolling of their levanta cola denims to work, to hang around with mates, to exit—they appeared so assured embracing a method that, again within the U.S., got here with very particular directions for who and the place they may very well be worn with out judgment.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized these magnificence requirements are rooted in racist, sexist, and classist beliefs. I’ve discovered that carrying these butt-lifting, tight-fitting, curve-hugging denims gained’t imply you’re “cheesy”—in actual fact, having your personal private type is one thing to be happy with, much more so if it connects to your neighborhood and your heritage. For all the women who beloved this type of denims again within the day and are contemplating revisiting the look, it could be time to buy a brand new pair—or rustle them up from the depths of your closet.

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