Alpargatas from Argentina, and Latina jeans

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 ‘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 from Colombia.

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.

Shih Yen wears alpargatas from Argentina with Colombian butt lift jeans.

Shoes by Hot Chocolate Design

Happy new year 2016! At the start of this new year, I’m writing a post about my current favourite shoe label. This is the Venezuelan label Hot Chocolate Design. I love all the shoe designs in their range.

Hot Chocolate Design was started in 2004 by Pablo Martinez and Carolina Aguerrevere. Their shoe designs are all in a Mary Jane style with a strap and buckle across. Their shoes are made of fabric with a rubber sole. All their shoes have a fun, quirky design. They design on the principle that as adults, we yearn for things that made us happy as a child. So their shoes have a certain child-like cute quality to them. Their youthful designs make them very suitable as children’s shoes, and their Mini Chocolaticas range is aimed at young girls. However, I am more interested in their shoes for adults.

Hot Chocolate Design has two styles for adults – the Chocolaticas and Double Topping range. The shoes in the Chocolaticas range all have flat soles. Most of the designs in the Chocolaticas range are not mirror images of each other, in the sense that the left foot is not a mirror image of the right foot. And yet, together, they are still unmistakeably a pair.


Shoes from Hot Chocolate Design’s Chocolaticas range.

I love the Chocolaticas range and I have a pair myself in the style ‘Cupid’. It is a comfortable pair of shoes, and I love the yellow glitter on the soles.


Shih Yen’s pair of Hot Chocolate Design shoes from the Chocolaticas range, in the style ‘Cupid’.

The other Hot Chocolate Design style for adults is the Double Topping range. While the shoes in the Chocolaticas range are flat, all the shoes in the Double Topping range have heels – a 3.5 inch heel, to be exact. The Marie Antoinette style in this range comes with laces that are removable, so it is possible to wear that style as a boot with laces, or as a Mary Jane style.


Shoes by Venezuelan label, Hot Chocolate Design. The Marie Antoinette style, with removable laces, is on the left.

I even love the shoe boxes that Hot Chocolate Design shoes come in. The Chocolaticas shoes come in a shoe box shaped like a chocolate milk carton. Double Topping shoes come in a shoe box shaped like a pink birthday cake. The packaging even includes a birthday candle to make it look like a proper birthday cake box.

choc box

The Chocolaticas shoe box in the shape of a chocolate milk carton.


Falling in love … with shoes

Maybe you’re one of those practical types who don’t give much thought to shoes. Shoes are just protective gear that you wear on your feet. You’re looking at the title of this post and you can’t possibly imagine how anyone can fall in love with shoes. Well, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to fall in love with shoes and I’m going to tell you about shoes that I have loved.

I don’t believe in love at first sight when it comes to humans, but when it comes to shoes, I have definitely fallen in love at first sight. The first time it happened to me was 12 years ago and I fell in love at first sight with a pair of Camper TWS twins shoes. The right foot says ‘He loves me…’ with fluttering white daisy petals, while the left foot says, ‘He loves me not’ with a white daisy flower losing some of its petals. I saw it in a print ad and went into the store to look for them. Never mind that the price tag was over NZ$300 (and this was over a decade ago) and I was just working in my first real job at that time. I bought the pair of shoes without a second thought. This was back when Camper was still made in Spain. They are a beautiful and high quality pair of shoes. I still have them and they still look pretty new.

Shih Yen fell in love with this pair of Camper shoes from their TWS range

Shih Yen fell in love with this pair of Camper shoes from their TWS range.

The second time was about 10 years ago when I fell in love at first sight with another pair of Mary Jane style shoes. The label was Candy, but I haven’t been able to find out more about this label. This pair of shoes has pink butterflies on them and the words ‘Happy summer days forever’. The soles of the shoes are pink with butterflies on them. This pair of shoes is now old, and the soles are cracked and can’t be repaired. Even though I can no longer wear them, I can’t bear to throw them out. Just like with someone you love, you can’t throw them away just because they are old.


Shih Yen fell in love with this pair of Candy shoes with pink butterflies and the words ‘Happy summer days forever.’

candy sole

Butterflies on the sole of Shih Yen’s Candy shoes.

Now I can see that I have a ‘type’. I love cutesy, quirky shoes in a Mary Jane style, and preferably flat. Recently, I have fallen in love again. I love the entire Chocolaticas range by Hot Chocolate. This is a label from Venezuela, though I was disappointed to find out that Hot Chocolate shoes are designed in Venezuela, but made in China. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but it was  a love of an entire range. I even love the shoe boxes that the shoes come in. The shoe box is in the shape of a chocolate milk carton.

This ‘cupid’ style was the only pair that the shop had in my size, so I bought them. And I love them. They have yellow glitter on the soles, and the glitter is so cool, just like the butterflies on the soles of my Candy shoes. Wearing shoes that I love makes me happy and puts me in a good mood.


Shih Yen’s Hot Chocolate Design shoes in the style ‘cupid’.

choc box

The Hot Chocolate Design ‘Cupid’ style has glitter on the soles of the shoes, and the shoe box is in the shape of a chocolate milk carton.

You may think that loving shoes are silly. They can never love you back. They may give you blisters and break your ankle, but shoes will never break your heart. ❤

As an epilogue to this post, after writing this post I finally got rid of my old Candy shoes. Like with any great love, once it is over, you have to let it go. And it is only when you let go that you can love again.

Hot Chocolate Design – Shoes from Venezuela

Recently, I saw this woman wearing an interesting pair of shoes in a Mary Jane style. At first I thought she was wearing odd shoes as it seemed like one shoe was green while the other was red. I wondered if it was Odd Shoe day, but it wasn’t. (Odd Shoe Day was on the 12th of September 2014. This is a day when you wear odd, mismatched shoes and make donations to benefit Camp Quality. Camp Quality is an Australian and New Zealand charity that helps children living with cancer). Then, I realized the woman was wearing shoes with a watermelon design, and she had teamed her shoes with a pair of bright green tights. The effect was so quirky that I wished I had my camera with me to take a photo. I briefly wondered if other people walk along the street like me having urges to take photos of strangers’ shoes, which then made me question my sanity … but that’s another story.

The woman I saw was wearing watermelon shoes by Hot Chocolate Design, from their chocolatica range.

The woman I saw was wearing these watermelon shoes by Hot Chocolate Design, from their chocolaticas range.

The shoe that I saw was a pair of watermelon shoes by Hot Chocolate Design. Hot Chocolate Design is a label from Venezuela that started in 2004. The team is made up of graphic designer Carolina Aguerrevere, and illustrator Pablo Martinez. They mainly design on Mary Jane style shoes made of fabric, but they also have slip-on slippers and alpargatas styles. In addition to watermelon shoes, they also have strawberry, orange, lemon and cherry shoes. Fruit not your thing? They have other quirky styles as well. Their Hot Chocolate designs are fun, cute and whimsical. The left shoe may be different from the right shoe, and yet together both still make up a pair. Their designs are reminiscent of the Camper Twins or TWS range. Even the boxes that these shoes come in are whimsical. The shoe boxes are shaped like giant milk cartons.

watermelon shoes

Side view of the watermelon shoes by Hot Chocolate Design.

They also have a darker twin label, their Dark Chocolate Design. They call that line the dark, dead twin. The Dark Chocolate Design has a darker, more goth feel. They don’t produce a lot of any one design, so their shoes are always like limited editions and never feel mass produced. Check out the official Hot Chocolate Design site here to see more of their shoes.


Alpargatas from South America

Recently, I’ve been a bit obsessed with footwear called alpargatas, and let me tell you why. It was a couple of months ago after I had just finished writing about Argentine tango shoes. I was walking along wondering what other footwear from Argentina I could write about. I was thinking about alpargatas, but I didn’t have a photo of them. Then, I saw a man walking ahead of me wearing the exact shoe that I was thinking about. I couldn’t believe it. I walked with him for 2 blocks. No, I was not following him! We just happened to be walking in the same direction for 2 blocks. I walked with him and stared at his shoes until I had to turn to go to my workplace. I had my camera with me that day and I wished that I had stopped him, but I am not enough of a lunatic to stop a complete stranger on the street and ask if I can take photos of his shoes! I really regretted it though for I never saw him again. But to be honest, I wouldn’t recognize him anyway; I would only recognize his shoes. For a while, every time I walked that way, I would look out for a man wearing alpargatas. I think of them as the shoes that got away, and the whole incident inspired me to write a poem. Yes, I wrote poetry about alpargatas! I debated whether or not to share my poem here, but decided that since this blog has been non-fiction so far, I would like to keep it that way. So after that very long preamble, let me get on with actually writing about alpargatas.

Alpargatas, or espadrilles in English, are traditional footwear worn by the gaucho, or cowboys, in South America. Gaucho are found in parts of Argentina, Southern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. They live in rural areas, and are well known for riding horses and herding cattle on horseback. Alpargatas originated in the Pyrenees, the area between France and Spain, before being brought to South America by Basque settlers. Alpargatas are warm weather shoes, worn in the spring or summer months. Alpargatas can be worn by both men and women.

These alpargatas have the traditional soles of jute rope, but modern uppers made of leather.

These alpargatas have the traditional soles made of jute, but modern uppers made of leather.

Even though alpargatas has an association with peasant footwear, or footwear for the common man, they have become fashionable worldwide. I know this because I have seen alpargatas worn as far away as in New Zealand, and I have also seen them for sale both in New Zealand and in Malaysia at high-end prices for this humble footwear.

Traditionally, alpargatas were made with cotton or canvas uppers and with soles of jute. And traditionally, alpargatas came in monochrome colours like black or white. These days, there are all sorts of modern variations on alpargatas. They come in different colours, fabric design, and different materials. Alpargatas can now have rubber soles instead of jute soles, and some have wedge heels made of jute, but all can still be called alpargatas.

The stranger I saw was wearing this pair of TOMS alpargatas. These alpargatas have modern rubber soles, but traditional canvas uppers.

The stranger I saw was wearing this exact pair of TOMS alpargatas. These alpargatas have modern rubber soles, but traditional canvas uppers (Photo from the TOMS website).

The stranger I saw on the street was wearing alpargatas from a label called TOMS. This is a label started by Blake Mycoskie in 2006. Blake first went to Argentina as a contestant on the TV show ‘The Amazing Race’. When he later visited Argentina again, he saw poor children who did not have proper shoes, and this inspired him to start TOMS shoes. The TOMS motto is ‘one for one’. For each pair of TOMS shoes sold, another pair of shoes would be given to a child in need. TOMS currently gives shoes to children in over 60 countries around the world.

The logo of TOMS shoes, which is sewn onto the back heel of TOMS shoes.

The TOMS logo, which is sewn onto the back heel of TOMS shoes.

Some TOMS shoes are made in Argentina, and the TOMS logo is a variation on the Argentine flag. The logo is sewn onto the back heel of TOMS alpargatas. Personally, I would have a problem if my nation’s flag was used as a brand logo and then placed in such a lowly position as the back of the heel.

Argentine Tango Shoes

When I was in high school in New Zealand, in the weeks leading up to the school ball (equivalent to senior prom in the USA), students in the senior forms had ballroom dance lessons in preparation for the ball. These dance lessons were held during lunch break in the school hall. During these lessons, I learned many different ballroom dances, none of which I can remember now.

The first time that I danced ballroom tango was in one of these dance lessons at school. Unfortunately, the reason I remember this is because I fell down in front of most of the senior school while dancing the tango. I thought I had tripped over the guy’s feet. He claims he pushed me down. Whatever the truth, suffice to say that my first experience with the tango was very embarrassing.

Fast forward many years later, and I enrolled in an Argentine tango class. Actually, ballroom tango is very different from Argentine tango. They are almost like completely different dances, but I signed up for the Argentine tango class anyway. Why? Because I guess I still have some unfinished business left with the tango. Also, the flyer advertising this class claims that, ‘If you can walk, you can dance Argentine tango.’ This intrigued me, and I wanted to find out if this claim is true.

Argentine tango started at the end of the 19th century on the streets of Buenos Aires. It is an intimate and sensual dance, totally improvised, with an emphasis on the connection between the two dancers. Argentine tango is danced to the accompaniment of the bandoneón, which is a musical instrument that looks like an accordion.

My only goal for this class was: don’t fall down, and try and have fun. So far, I have managed not to fall down, but as a beginner I have also been dancing in my socks. Having big guys who don’t know how to dance either step on my toes really hurt! So I thought I would write about Argentine tango shoes.


A pair of women’s Argentine tango shoes in a peep-toe style.

Both tango shoes for men and women look like regular street shoes. But tango shoes are made of leather or suede, including in the soles, and this makes doing pivots and turns a lot easier. Tango shoes for women are beautiful, and always high-heeled. The heels are around 2.5 to 3.5 inches high (6.5 – 9cm). Women’s tango shoes can be in a covered or peep-toe style, and they are always strappy, with straps that go around the ankle. On the inside, tango shoes should have a soft lining, preferably of leather. To be able to dance in them, tango shoes should fit securely so that the feet are not sliding around inside the shoes. This often means wearing tango shoes a half size smaller than regular street shoes.

So is it true that if you can walk, you can dance Argentine tango? Well… I would say that if you can walk backwards in high heels while doing pivots and turns, then yes, you can dance Argentine tango.

Catléia Shoes

I have to say I don’t like brown shoes. I may even go as far as to say I hate wearing brown shoes. But I recently had the chance to wear a pair of vintage brown shoes that were so beautiful that they almost changed my opinion of brown shoes. They were a pair of brown leather shoes made in Brazil, from the label CatlĂ©ia.

Beautiful brown leather shoes by Catléia.

Beautiful brown vintage leather shoes by Catléia, made in Brazil.

I can’t find much information about CatlĂ©ia shoes, so if anyone can shed any light on them, I would be most grateful. CatlĂ©ia was a label from Brazil. I say was because I think this label went bust in December 1997. The only information I could find on CatlĂ©ia is an address in Campo Bom, which is in the Southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, near the border with Uruguay.

I have read that leather from Latin America is one of the best in the world. From my very limited experience of leather products from this region, I have to agree. The Brazilian-made Catléia shoes I wore were of good quality with beautiful and detailed leatherwork on them.

Side view of the Catléia shoes that Shih Yen wore.

Side view of the Catléia shoes that Shih Yen wore.

I don’t think it’s possible to get CatlĂ©ia shoes anymore. As a brand, they existed between the late 1960s and late 1990s. So, it seems that all the CatlĂ©ia shoes in existence are now vintage. I can’t estimate the age of the CatlĂ©ia shoes that I wore. If I had to guess, I would say between 20 – 30 years old. This attests to the quality of CatlĂ©ia shoes that they have lasted so well for decades.