Latin Pop Culture and Fashion (Pt. 2): More Mainstream Latin Celebrities

In my last post on the topic of Latin pop culture's influence on fashion, I talked about Ugly Betty and mentioned that it was Salma Hayek's influence as a stateside celebrity that made the show possible. I also talked about how the show had made a rising star out of America Ferrera. Indeed, more than ever, entertainers with a Latin background seem to be achieving mainstream success in the English-speaking media. Their growing influence on fashion can be broken down into two effects:
  1. Attractive stars with great style are photographed and mimicked. Their clout as style icons can, at times, become a foray into the fashion industry later on.
  2. The diversity of these celebrities' looks pushes yet reaffirms the boundaries of what mainstream America thinks of as a stereotypically Latin look.

The Rise of Stylish Latin Stars

Think long and hard about this question: Before the nineties, when was the last time the English-speaking world looked at a Latina woman as a style icon? Eva Peron? Nowadays, however, any follower of tabloid magazines can name a slew of Latina celebrities whom they consider fashionable: Jennifer Lopez, Eva Longoria, Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, America Ferrera, Alexis Bledel, Gisele Bundchen, and so on. These chicas strut their stuff, becoming household names in the process.

Original images from

Some of them have translated their style clout into gigs as designers and spokesmodels. Jennifer Lopez parlayed her fame and uniquely streetwise look into clothing lines. Penelope Cruz and her sister, Monica, now design a clothing line exclusively for Mango. At the height of the Desperate Housewives hype, Eva Longoria's outfits on and off the air were scrutinized endlessly, and she landed major endorsement deals with companies like L'Oreal and Bebe. The clothing lines, collaborations with major chains, endorsements--the success of these endeavours proves that there's a consumer group that identifies with these ladies. This consumer base may be Latin or non-Latin, but it certainly identifies with the personal style, charm, success, beauty, and aspirational lifestyle that these ladies embody.

Interestingly, the chicos haven't had as much success establishing themselves as style stars in the English-speaking world with the notable exception of Diego Luna. After the unprecedented success of Y Tu Mama Tambien, Diego scored English-language roles in a number of films released in North America, most notably Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. His slim build, boyishly handsome good looks, and puppy dog eyes made him an ideal blank canvas for designer suits and higher-end streetwear. The high points of his evolution as a style icon include a 12-page fashion spread modelling suits in a July 2004 issue of GQ, and a stint as a spokesmodel for Ermengildo Zegna in 2005.

Diego Luna looking suave in Zegna

Racial Politics and Latin Celebrities

The diversity of these celebrities' looks pushes yet reaffirms the boundaries of what mainstream America thinks of as a stereotypically Latin look. When most North Americans think of a typically "Latin-looking" person, the image that comes to mind is dark eyes, dark hair, and dark skin. Yet the wholesome all-American looks of Alexis Bledel (Mexican/Argentinean), blond supermodel Gisele, and Gael Garcia Bernal's fair skin and green eyes challenge this stereotype. Latin celebrities who veer from the stereotype have broadened popular conception so that it reflects the diversity of the modern-day Spanish-speaking world.

Alexis Bledel (photo courtesy of Purse Blog)

At the same time, it is interesting to see that appearance-based typecasting in Hollywood still stands. Latin actors who look relatively Caucasian and can speak with no audible accent can land more mainstream parts than the dark-haired, dark-eyed actors who speak with an accent; the latter are almost always typecast. For example, Alexis Bledel rose to fame as the all-American Rory Gilmore. She is so famous for this WASP-ish persona that people are often surprised to find out she's half-Mexican, half-Argentinean, and fluent in Spanish. Contrast Alexis Bledel's career trajectory with that of Salma Hayek's or Penelope Cruz's; both of these ladies almost exclusively play Latina women.


  1. Great article! That's surprising to learn about Alexis Bledel, I thought she was maybe only half Latina.

  2. I had *no* idea about Bledel, how enlightening. And how unfortunate that despite being Latin, no one knows it because she never gets cast that way. I never thought of there being a reverse aspect of that type-casting.


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