You must begin with the underwire fitting. You’re destined to fail if you start gluing rhinestones onto any old brassiere lying around. “It won’t look the same,” says Monica Peralta, a 27-year-old Los Angeles Selena fan. “It absolutely will not!” She suggests a strong bra from Victoria’s Secret or Carnival Creations, similar to what Selena would have worn. Selena, the biopic about the late Tejano singer, released in theaters exactly 20 years ago. The film was released just two years after the singer was horrifically murdered and shot by former fan club manager Yolanda Saldivar, capturing her meteoric rise to fame and securing her legacy. (The film also launched the career of Jennifer Lopez, a young dancer.) Selena Fashion Show had already become a national touchstone and a widely admired role model at the time of her death. Her adolescent years spent honing her musicianship resulted in hit songs, hundreds of thousands of album sales, crossover success, and a Grammy win before she was 23. And, 20 years after her passing and the film’s eventual release, the singer’s legacy has only gotten larger, reinforced by a slew of recent pop-cultural markers.
Her songs are still prominent in society for a variety of reasons, none more powerful than her assertion that they are simultaneously uplifting and propelling Tejano culture into the future. Even though she not raised speaking Spanish, she began her career by singing Tejano songs phonetically in their native tongue. At the same time, she and her band pushed the genre’s boundaries by singing in English and incorporating disco, R&B, and funk flourishes into their songs.
Selena; a Fashion Icon
Selena Gomez, as a fashion icon, openly commemorated her Mexican American heritage rather than having to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards. Few Latino celebrities made a significant impact on American popular culture in the 1990s, and those who did frequently dealt with the brutalities of racism. Ricky Martin, for example, writes in his autobiography about never feeling truly at ease on the set of General Hospital, where he settled a role in the mid-1990s, and coming to believe his Puerto Rican accent sounded “horrible.” Pop stars in Mexico’s entertainment world, like Paulina Rubio and Thala, had fairer skin and lighter hair than Selena. Both Rubio and Thala attempted English-language crossovers and, to varying degrees, emphasized their whiteness. That is what distinguished Selena, according to Garcia. “You never saw people like that on television at the time, even in Latin American programming.” Selena chose to highlight the structure of her lips with a brilliant, signature red tint; she decided to embrace her perpetually straggly, dark brown hair and her size-zero body type. (The title of one episode of Anything for Selena is “Big Butt Politics.”)
The Demand for Selena’s fashion in America
Selena’s image is now an indispensable part of American style, which would have been unfathomable to her as she was attempting to figure out a place for herself in American pop culture. Selena’s style reflected the choice of the attire of Texas’ Mexican American working-class societies while also drawing inspiration from some of her pop star idols, including Janet Jackson, Madonna, and Whitney Houston. Even when she went for more sophisticated looks, she did so on a budget. “She was wearing gemstones, which you could tell were rhinestones,” Garcia laughs. “She wasn’t trying to fool anyone into thinking she was wearing diamonds.” She used black sequins, which can found at any craft store, to make the smudges on the cow-print dress she wore at a 1991 performance in San Antonio. She also wore a lot of denim on stage, often in tight, black, high-waisted jeans and occasionally in more rugged, light-washed styles. Selena glammed up everyday regions with references, like the studded motorcycle jacket that now resides in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. In Garcia’s words, she “legitimized” this aesthetic appeal by adorning Tejano touchstones and elevating them to cherished and praised status symbols.
And, while Selena’s clothes were often handmade, they had a graceful sheen to them. She wore a glistening beaded gown and red lipstick to the 1994 Grammys, where she won Best Mexican-American Album. The image of her holding her Grammy while smiling and waving at the camera solidified her status as a recruit of pop music royalty, which was reinforced when Whitney Houston, who won Album of the Year and Record of the Year, graced the stage in a similar ensemble: a glistening, pearl-colored gown paired with a tousled updo.