Saturday, August 25, 2012

Belly Shirts and Bright Colors: Clothing in Cuba

Yesterday I saw a delivery man outside my favorite coffee shop rolling his t-shirt up to cool off, and it was a pleasant but unexpected flashback to a similar practice in Cuba.  Most Cubans live in the hot, humid climate without air conditioning, and their survival strategies are commendable.  Men frequently do the same as that Phoenix man: roll t-shirts under so it leaves half of their torso exposed to any cooling breeze that may provide at least a momentary break from the humidity that makes clothing stick to one's skin.  Sleeveless shirts adorn men and women alike - another way to allow air to cool skin. 
Apart from the belly shirts on men, though, fashion on the streets of Cuba was not unlike that in America.  Comfortable fabrics and always, always bright colors.

Even at funerals:
Brand name clothes are as popular in Cuba as they are anywhere.  When our guide and driver weren't in uniform, they were often in Adidas shirts, and I frequently saw the German brand on other Cubans, as well.
So I was very amused when I saw this photo of a line outside an Adidas store on the Havana Unwrapped website:

Of course, name brands are very expensive here - they're sold in CUCs so many Cubans can't afford them at all.  The term "dollar store" doesn't have the same context in Cuba as it does here at home, where many of us go for great deals on useful items.  In Cuba, "dollar store" refers to the expensive stores that used to cater only to tourists who could pay for items in American dollars.  Thanks to the worsened relationship between Cuba and the U.S. under President George W. Bush, the dollar is no longer a legal form of cash in the Cuban system.

Kudos to Havana Unplugged for sharing videos of the difference between shopping in a CUC store ("dollar store") versus a peso store where most Cubans go to find the things they need.  The link to the videos is here.  And click here for another great article about the clothing disparity between those who have a job with tourists or family in the U.S. and those who must scrape by on pesos.

I failed to find the one fashion-related activity I had wanted to experience while in Cuba: the art of Luidmila López Domínguez.  This woman's obsession with shoes far surpasses anything I've ever heard of, and since I share her belief that shoes tell us a lot about history and cultures I wanted to visit her studio/home on San Lázaro Street.  Basically, I wanted to stalk her until I could see her legendary collection of shoes and shoe art, but I'll have to save that opportunity for next time. 
I did manage to bring home a pair of shoes designed and made in Cuba, and a hand-crocheted dress, so I think the shoe art can wait.


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