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Mexican Dresses: A Cinco de Mayo Tradition

For Martha Medina, owner of Olveritas Village on Olvera Street at the El Pueblo Historical Monument in downtown Los Angeles, Cinco de Mayo represents another opportunity to showcase the beauty of the Mexican culture, and her wide array of Mexican dresses and men’s clothing and other specialty items.

Mexican fiestas are celebrated year round on Olvera Street and this Saturday and Sunday the city’s birthplace will host its annual Cinco de Mayo festival — one of the largest and most colorful of all its popular fiestas. From food to decorations and live music, to elaborate Mexican costumes, Olvera Street is keeping its Mexican roots alive.

People living in and around Los Angeles eagerly look forward to Cinco de Mayo or El Día de la Batalla de Puebla. It’s an annual tradition that for many immediately means time to celebrate.

Owner of Olveritas, Marta Medina stands next to a traditional Mexican dress on Monday; as she prepares for Cinco De Mayo, her busiest season. (EGP photo by Jacqueline García) [1]

Owner of Olveritas, Marta Medina stands next to a traditional Mexican dress on Monday; as she prepares for Cinco De Mayo, her busiest season. (EGP photo by Jacqueline García)

History says that on May 5, 1862, a small group of Indigenous Mexicans armed with machetes and rocks won a battle against the French Army, which had a bigger and better armory of weapons and horses.

Today, from folklorico dancers to regular people, Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike, often choose to wear clothes that were typical in the 1900s as part of their celebration.

According to Medina, some of the more popular styles include China Poblana, Escaramuza or a traditional blouse and skirt edged with lace and the three colors of the Mexican flag: red, green and white.

The China Poblana, Medina explained, originates from the city of Puebla in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, where the Battle of Puebla was waged on Cinco de Mayo. The blouse has fringe, is embroidered with silk, beads, and flowers in bright colors. The long A-lined skirt is decorated with sequins and embroidery, added Medina, who carries a large selection of the clothes in her store, and who dresses many of the region’s folklorico dancers.

The escaramuza style dress is worn in several different Mexican states where the Mexican style rodeo known as charreada is popular, Medina told EGP. It is especially popular in Jalisco, Zacatecas, and in Puebla. The escaramuza is a popular charreada event. It involves women, dressed in long-sleeved shirts and long circular skirts decorated with colorful strips of ribbon, performing intricate routines on horseback, explained Medina.

She said a traditional Mexican dress includes a long circular skirt that can either have a lot of detail, such as elaborate hand embroidered flowers, or be plain, with only a little lace in the edges. Most of the dresses are adorned with a chal (shawl) that is used in place of a sweater, Medina added.


While Olveritas has many ready to wear dresses in stock, the store is also well-know for its custom designs made in Mexico. Medina says in her business, “decorating” a dress by hand can be a long process, depending on the desired details.

“People usually bring us two pictures of the desired outfit,” said Medina, and once the customer and I agree on the details, I email the picture to Mexico where the design process begins.

A fashion designer in Mexico takes the information and makes the sketch used to make the dress.

From start to finish, “a plain, regular dress can take up to 8 weeks to complete,” said Medina. The most elaborate dresses can take up to 8 months to finish, she said. “It all depends if you want the dress with machine embroidery or hand-embroidery,” she added.

Medina told EGP she is amazed by Mexico’s great culture and traditions. She said the number of dress styles can be in the hundreds, depending on the state and region. “For example, Oaxaca has 365 outfits (huipiles) and skirts; Yucatan is well-known for the Guayaberas worn by men, that are often white and short-sleeved; Veracruz for the Jarocho, long skirt and shirt with chal,” and many more, she said.

The wearing of Mexican dresses is a tradition that has continued for generations in many Mexican families, but Medina adds that she is impressed that many of her white and Russian clients are also adopting the traditional clothing into their wardrobes. “Russians like to wear Mexican clothing, they find it similar to theirs,” she said.

Olveritas Village is a 40 year-old family owned business, providing all types of outfits from all the states and regions of Mexico.