It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the unconventional and unapologetic artist, Frida Kahlo
resort to fashion and style to earn the powerful and confident personality of hers attached with numerous other adjectives. Her flamboyant sense of dressing and fearless flaunting of the unibrow and facial hair made its place in 1937 French vogue. While many would have thought it as an attempt to acquire an ‘artist-like’ image or to simply look distinctive, Kahlo had more to it. Both her art and her attire had always been a response to her life. It has been noted that her art was a direct depiction of major life events, tragedies, physical and emotional trauma, for the public to see and experience. But, her dressing style was a hiding home for her insecurities and imperfections.
Frida was a mixed-race woman, born to a German father and a half Spanish, half indigenous mother in Mexico City on June 6, 1907. Frida was called peg-leg at her school because she contracted polio at a delicate age of 6. Due to the disease, Frida‘s right leg grew much smaller than her left. To conceal it, she wore long skirts and layers of socks. Regardless, Frida was a very active child and participated in activities like swimming, boxing, soccer which were all very unusual for girls at that particular time. Her interest in sports could be one the reason why she kept her hair short most of her childhood and teenage. While some believe, she had an androgynous identity. There are several pictures of Kahlo, where she is dressed up as a man, in a three-piece suit and sometimes a shirt and a tie. Maybe the unibrow and the light moustache are an extension of this side of her personality. Her sexuality and sense of dressing during this phase of her life was further questioned because of her inappropriate relations with her female gym teacher when Frida was only 13 years old. The relationship ended when Frida‘s mother found out some letters exchanged between the two.
Two years forward, when Frida was 15 she was infatuated with a famous mural artist Diego Rivera who was 36 years old at the time. They got married 7 years later when she Frida was 22 and he was 43. Diego was not the most attractive looking man but most assuredly charming and very popular among women. A dramatic and tumultuous marriage had a big impact on Frida‘s style of painting and dressing. Since Diego liked her in traditional clothing and long hair, she started to dress in a more feminine Mexican manner. She occasionally wore the traditional Tehuana Dress with a type of headdress that surrounds the face called ‘resplandor’. She wore her hair in braids with colorful ribbons and flowers that made her style very unique and iconic. Her skirts were big and blouse airy with extravagant prints and hues. This was also a way of hiding her many surgical scars which she got due to a nearly fatal bus-trolley accident where Kahlo was badly injured in her pelvis and spinal column. Frida went through 22 surgeries in her life and 3 miscarriages. She had to wear full body casts which is why it was ideal to wear loose fitted Mexican blouses. Being the the passionate artist that she was, she is seen painting on one of her many plaster corsets in a photograph from 1951. She painted tigers, monkeys, and birds on it. This explains how both her art and her attire were a door of escapism from the sorrows in her life.
Frida was a very strong-headed and empowered woman. We see her experimenting looks from time to time without attending to what society thinks. Even her art was a reflection of her self. Frida herself said, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” In 1940 Frida painted one of her most famous works, ‘Self-portrait with cropped hair’ reflecting an incredibly painful phase in her life. When she found out that Deigo had an affair with her younger sister, Frida went through an emotional turmoil. She cropped all of her hair, got rid of her feminine image that Rivera was smitten with and started to wear men’s suit again. Thus she painted a self-portrait of the new Frida who is independent and does not rely on men.
However, a year later Diego asked Frida to remarry him when she was very sick due to severe back pain and was admitted to a hospital. Her hair grew long again and she started to dress up the way her husband liked. In 1943 she painted a self-portrait wearing a Tehuana with a portrait of Diego on her forehead. Frida‘s health worsened in the following years and the doctors had to replace her cast and leather corsets with a metallic corset. She painted ‘The broken column’ in 1944 after the operation. The painting shows her face covered in tears and countless iron nails all over her body. Even in the most agonizing times, she did not wanted to miss an opportunity to study herself at that time in her life and paint herself all over again. In 1953 her right leg was amputated and she had to wear a prosthetic foot.
After Frida died in 1954, Rivera locked her belongings in a bathroom of La Casa Azul, Kahlo’s home in Coyoacán, Mexico. It was not unlocked until 2002. Heavy necklaces of jade and coral, makeup, several clothes, and headdresses were found which are visible in the hundreds of photographs that exist of her. Many of her corsets, prosthetic foot and pairs of boots were also found. Her painted and embroidered shoes were none the less very bright and attractive. She wore an upright heel in her right foot to balance her uneven legs. Even when Frida was lying in bed, unable to sit or stand for long, she would wear flowers in her hair, jewellery and her favourite lipstick: Everything’s Rosy by Revlon. The beautiful headdresses and jewellery distracted one from her legs and her body.
Her disabilities could be seen in her works but never on her appearances. She was an
an extraordinary woman who inspired several books, movies, songs and without a doubt, fearless art and fashion.