I’ve always had a slight interest in Argentina, ever since I turned down a scholarship to study for a year in Argentina. In this month’s post, I’ll write about alpargatas specifically, which is a type of traditional footwear from Argentina, and more generally about Latina fashion.
In my heart, I know I’ll never be Argentine. I’m not hug-y or kissey. Also, there are many things that I can’t understand, such as Argentine people’s very loose definition of time and punctuality, where being ridiculously late is totally fine. So I got invited to a birthday party of an Argentine friend. I actively tried to be late (by Latin American standards), purposely going shopping beforehand to ensure that I would be late. I was still too early, the first person to arrive, when other people were over an hour late.
The invitation to the party said ‘around (alrededor) 13:30′. I was thinking ‘what does ‘around’ mean?’ The day after the party, a Latino friend clarified for me:
Latino friend: ‘Around 1.30’ means 2 o’clock.
Me: So why don’t they say 2 o’clock?
Latino friend: Because if they say 2 o’clock, then people will turn up at 3 o’clock.
Me: !!! (speechless)
I also don’t understand Argentine people’s obsession with mate (pronounced ‘ma-tay’). Mate is a traditional drink, a type of tea made from the leaves of the yerba mate plant. It is the national drink of Argentina, and Argentine people drink it anytime and everywhere, out of a gourd with a silver straw called a bombilla. Mate is also drunk in Uruguay, Paraguay and the south of Brazil. When friends get together, they’ll drink mate out of the same gourd, sharing the same straw and passing the gourd back and forth between friends. I will drink mate, but I totally think it’s an acquired taste.
Drinking ‘mate’ with friends; drinking out of a gourd with a silver straw.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many things from Argentina that I love; for instance they cook a mean barbecue called asado, with beautiful meat. I like tango, and I love alpargatas. My soul may not be Argentine, but my soles can be. Haha!
Alpargatas are traditional footwear worn by gaucho, or cowboys, in South America. Gaucho are found in parts of Argentina, Uruguay and the south of Brazil. Gaucho are famous for riding horses and herding cattle on horseback. In the past, alpargatas were worn in rural areas. They can be worn by both men and women. Traditionally, alpargatas were monochrome, with cotton uppers and either rubber soles or soles made from jute. These days, alpargatas come in all sorts of colours and designs. Forget famous footballers; for me, I think that’s the one thing Argentina gave to the world: alpargatas. In particular, I feel that the label TOMS truly made alpargatas global.
A few years ago, alpargatas with jute soles, called espadrilles in English, were the height of fashion. They were everywhere and I was slightly obsessed with them, but I never managed to get a pair at the time. Probably because I was too picky. Styles I like didn’t come in my size and I didn’t like the ones that were available in my size, like gold or silver glitter alpargatas. And also I didn’t want alpargatas made in China.
Shih Yen’s alpargatas from Argentina. Yes, they are very comfortable.
Finally, I have got myself a nice, traditional pair of alpargatas, made in Argentina. How does one wear alpargatas? They are casual footwear, which can be worn with or without socks, depending on how cold the weather is. If you’re going for a traditional Argentine look, you can wear them with a poncho and bombachas, or gaucho pants. I have neither poncho nor bombachas, but if I did, I think I could totally rock the gaucho look 🙂
This leads me to the second part of my post – Latina fashion. Since I didn’t have gaucho pants, I looked for something else to wear with my alpargatas. The only thing I have from anywhere even remotely near that region is a pair of butt lift jeans designed in Colombia. Just as Latino people’s concept of time confuses me, some Latina fashion also baffles me. For instance, you can get padded underwear that will give you a bigger butt! Whaaaat?? WHY?? Anyway, back to my butt lift jeans. When I told a Malaysian friend that I had bought a pair of butt lift jeans, my friend said, “Because you’re crazy?” To which, I replied, “No, because I’m curious.” I am still curious. Even after buying them and wearing them, I don’t understand why anyone would want butt lift jeans.
Shih Yen’s butt lift jeans, designed in Colombia.
These jeans supposedly have special type of stitching to help lift the butt. To be honest, I can’t tell whether there’s any butt lifting action! To me, they just seem to be super tight jeans. In a bid to understand the butt lift jeans, I started asking Latino friends, both men and women, about their opinion of these jeans. Mostly I got 1 of 2 responses: they either laughed at my question, or were puzzled by my question. But in general, almost every Latino person I asked like this style; a couple of women were very passionately in favour of them.
I am still puzzled by butt lift jeans. I think perhaps Asian women are built differently from Latinas, and are not as curvy. I can only conclude that it is a cultural difference because of different definitions of beauty in different cultures. At least I have alpargatas, which I love.
Shih Yen wears alpargatas from Argentina with Colombian butt lift jeans.