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Dress Like an Artist: Frida Kahlo’s Unique Style

Nickolas Muray, Frida Kahlo on a bench, 1938, carbon print, courtesy of The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art. Vogue.

Fashion

Dress Like an Artist: Frida Kahlo’s Unique Style

Frida Kahlo is one of those women who are instantly recognizable. Even though she lived in the first half of the 20th century, she still evokes a mystique and an aesthetic all her own. If art is a form of self-expression, so is fashion. And Frida Kahlo, the artist, was adept at transitioning her innermost self seamlessly into her fashion choices.

Frida Kahlo’s style, Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC, US.
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC, USA.

Frida Kahlo was quite a character. She was born in 1907 to a German-Hungarian father, and a Spanish-Tehuana mother. Her life was full of thought-provoking, interesting, fascinating dualities. She was both feminine and revolutionary. Leftist and traditional. Muse and tormentor. At times a betrayed lover, while at other times a betrayer herself.

There are two things that most people know about Kahlo. Firstly, at just 18 years old, she was involved in a very painful accident in which the bus she rode hit a streetcar. This incident marked her for the rest of her life. Secondly, she had a passionate relationship with artist Diego Rivera. Kahlo herself had something to say of both.

“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”

Frida Kahlo (attr.).

Pain as Catalyst

Kahlo had already met Rivera by the time of the accident. However, that moment signaled a turning point when both her art and her fashion style blossomed. She had already begun to experiment with fashion since childhood. When she was six polio left her with a limp and one longer leg, so her classmates made fun of her. What did Kahlo do? She began to wear longer skirts and layered socks on her right foot to maintain balance.

Frida Paint on Her Bed, 1932.
Frida Kahlo on her bed, 1932. Frida Kahlo

Later, when the accident caused such grave injuries to her spine and leg, she turned to art and beauty for healing. Fashion, then, became a practical way to conceal her disabilities. It was actually Rivera who suggested that she find inspiration in the traditional aesthetic of Tehuana clothing. The long, wide skirts, loose-fitting blouses, elaborate hairstyles, and intricate embroidery could be used to her advantage. Through interesting elements and silhouettes, Kahlo could conceal casts and back braces, enhance her allure, and show her pride in her cross-cultural identity. 

Kahlo embraced all of it and, by doing so, she passed on to us a legacy of strength and determination. Pain, sorrow, and disappointment may always follow us, but that doesn’t mean that we have to let them take all the room.

“Feet, what do I need you for, when I have wings to fly?”

Frida Kahlo (attr.).

So, ready to channel your inner Frida Kahlo? Here’s some inspiration to get you started:

Frida Kahlo and Her Wardrobe – Elements of Her Iconic Look

Kahlo’s wardrobe is a very personal mix of traditional, practical, feminine, and eclectic influences, and she rocked them all with confidence! What are some of the elements that made her wardrobe so unique?

Color

Kahlo and bright colors are synonymous. Early in her diary, she writes:

“I’ll try out the pencils
sharpened to the point of infinity
which always sees ahead…”

Frida Kahlo, The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait.

And then she went on to write short snippets about the meanings of the colors in her pencil box.

 Frida Kahlo, Weeping Coconuts, 1951, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA.
Frida Kahlo, Weeping Coconuts, 1951, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA.

Kahlo’s use of color in her art was symbolic of what colors meant to her. In her fashion, her aesthetic derived from the traditional Mexican styles she favored.

Cotton huipil with machine-embroidered chain stitch; printed cotton skirt with embroidery and holán (ruffle), Museo Frida Kahlo, Mexico City, Mexico. Photograph by Javier Hinojosa. Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: Cotton huipil with machine-embroidered chain stitch; printed cotton skirt with embroidery and holán (ruffle), Museo Frida Kahlo, Mexico City, Mexico. Photograph by Javier Hinojosa.

Here are some pieces that could help you replicate this colorful look in different styles. For a traditional feel, these pieces would do the trick:

FK Blouse, Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: FK blouse. Frida Fashions.
Tehuantepec Mexican Huipil Blouse, Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: Tehuantepec Mexican Huipil blouse. Frida Fashions.
Huipil from Tehuantepec, Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: Huipil blouse from Tehuantepec. Etsy.

For a more contemporary vibe, these styles apply the same concepts of vibrant color, blousy fit, and yoke construction:

Eileen Peasant Blouse, Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: Eileen peasant blouse. Anthropologie.
Embroidered Yoke Blouse, Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: Embroidered Yoke blouse. Tradesy.

Here is a different approach to achieving Frida Kahlo’s colorful look:

Frida Kahlo Kimono Robe, Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: Frida Kahlo kimono robe. Etsy.

Color-blocking, as a trend, has seen a resurgence in recent years. Here are a couple of Frida Kahlo-inspired color-blocked pieces:

Women’s Patchwork Square Neck Top, Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: Women’s patchwork square neck top. Nordstrom.
100% Silk Frida-inspired Skirt with Pockets, Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: Frida Kahlo-inspired silk skirt with pockets. Poshmark.

Texture

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Monkey, 1940, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York, USA.
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Monkey, 1940, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York, NY, USA.

Texture is an important element in Kahlo’s work. In Self-Portrait with Monkey, she not only depicts her own outfit in all its tactile detail, but she also renders the monkey’s fur, the feel of her hair and ribbon, and even the veins in the leaves behind her. She shows this same level of detail consistently throughout her oeuvre.

Frida Kahlo, 1943, private collection. Photograph by Leo Matiz. Frida Kahlo's style
Leo Matiz, Frida Kahlo, 1943, private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

The huipil blouses that Kahlo favored also rely on heavy textural and embroidered elements that create a feminine look, within the blousy silhouette. The word ‘huipil’ comes from the Nahuatl tongue, and it means ‘blouse’ or ‘shift’. Here are some pieces inspired by this aesthetic:

Black Mexican Huipil Vintage Blouse with Multi color Hand Embroidery from Chiapas, Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: Black Mexican huipil vintage blouse with multi color hand embroidery from Chiapas. Mayan Copal.
Traditional Mexican hand-embroidered blouse, Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: Traditional Mexican hand-embroidered blouse. Etsy.
Hand-embroidered Mexican dress, Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: Hand-embroidered Mexican dress. Etsy.
Fashionable Shawl, Frida Kahlo's style
Frida Kahlo style: Fashionable shawl. Frida Fashions.

Full Skirts and Feminine Silhouettes

Frida Kahlo took advantage of the full, maxi skirt to conceal her limp and, later, a full leg prosthetic. Her decorated boots are one example of her creativity and how she viewed art as more than just painting, but as self-expression.

Left: Frida Kahlo, Photograph by Nickolas Muray; Right: Frida Kahlo’s Custom-made Prosthetic Leg, with its painted Red Boot, Photograph by Stefano Giovannin, Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA.
Left: Nickolas Muray, Frida Kahlo, 1946.
Right: Frida Kahlo’s custom-made prosthetic leg with its painted Red Boot. Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA. Photograph by Stefano Giovannin. New York Post.

Here are ways to be inspired by this look, both traditional and more modern:

La Fashionaria Skirt. Frida Kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: La Fashionaria skirt. Frida Fashions.
Frida Kahlo Outfit, Frida Kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: Frida Kahlo outfit. Frida Fashions.
ZESICA Women's Bohemian Floral maxi skirt, Frida Kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: ZESICA women’s Bohemian floral printed maxi skirt. Amazon.
Milumia Women’s Boho Vintage skirt, Frida Kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: Milumia women’s maxi skirt. Amazon.
Maxi skirt, Frida Kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: Maxi cotton skirt. Amazon.
Handmade Oaxacan Turquoise Blue Broom Skirt, Frida Kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: Handmade Oaxacan turquoise skirt. Poshmark.
Frida Kahlo’s Red Skirt,Frida Kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: Frida Kahlo’s red skirt. Poshmark.

Colorful Shoes

Choosing shoes must have been difficult for Kahlo, since they had to accommodate her extra layers of socks. Then, towards the end of her life when her right leg was amputated, she refused to wear the standard-issue prosthetic leg the hospital gave her. Instead, she got a custom-made prosthetic leg that was fitted to a red, embroidered boot. If she had to wear a prosthetic, why not wear a beautiful one?

Left: Prosthetic leg with leather boot, 1953-4, Museo Frida Kahlo, Mexico City, Mexico. Photographs by Javier Hinojosa.
Right: Plaster corset, c. 1954, Museo Frida Kahlo, Mexico City, Mexico. Photographs by Javier Hinojosa.
Frida kahlo's style
Left: Prosthetic leg with leather boot, 1953-4, Museo Frida Kahlo, Mexico City, Mexico. Photographs by Javier Hinojosa.
Right: Plaster corset, c. 1954, Museo Frida Kahlo, Mexico City, Mexico. Photographs by Javier Hinojosa.

Vans has a whole collection inspired by Frida Kahlo, to help you combine comfort with Frida’s style:

OG Authentic LX (Frida Kahlo) Watermelon White. Frida Kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: OG Authentic LX (Frida Kahlo). Vans.

These Mexican huaraches, sandals, combine comfort with the cuteness factor:

Frida Kahlo Mexican Huaraches, Frida Kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: Frida Kahlo Mexican huaraches. Etsy.

Would you consider painting your own design onto these red rubber boots?

Vicki Mid-calf Rubber Rain Boots.
Frida Kahlo style: Vicki mid-calf rubber rain boots. Target.
Cute Clogs/Mules Embroidered Rainbow, Frida Kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: Cute Ccogs/mules with embroidered rainbow. Etsy.
LifeStride Karma Espadrille Slip-on Wedges, Frida Kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: LifeStride karma espadrille wedges. Macy’s.
L’Artiste Women’s Brankla Burnished Polished Clogs, Frida Kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: L’Artiste women’s brankla burnished polished clogs. Macy’s.

Flowers

“I paint flowers so they will not die.”

Frida Kahlo (attr.).
Frida Kahlo, The Frame, 1938, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France.
Frida Kahlo, The Frame, 1938, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France.

One element running throughout Frida’s work is nature. She consistently included flowers, greenery, leaves, birds, and other animals in her paintings. After her divorce from Diego Rivera in 1939, she moved back to her childhood home, La Casa Azul. When they later reconciled, Rivera moved in, and together they created a space that reflected their personal tastes. There, they could be surrounded by objects that inspired them both, such as native plant life and pre-Hispanic art.

Exterior of La Casa Azul, Mexico City, Mexico. Photograph by Bob Schalkwijk.
Exterior of La Casa Azul, Mexico City, Mexico. Photograph by Bob Schalkwijk.

In most of her portraits, Kahlo chose to pose wearing flowers in a nod to her past, but also to her present, as many of them came from her own garden. Flowers are an excellent way to uplift an outfit in a fresh, economical way. But, if you do not have a garden available, here are other sources to help you channel the look, both daring and a bit more subtle:

DreamLily Frida Kahlo Mexican Flower Crown Headband,  frida kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: DreamLily Frida Kahlo Mexican flower crown headband. Amazon.
Floral Crown Headband Coral, frida kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: Floral crown headband coral. Etsy.
Beaded Floral Headband,  frida kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: Beaded floral headband. Forever 21.
Tropical Bow Headband,  frida kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: Tropical bow headband. Anthropologie.
Floral Medley Knot Silk Headband,  frida kahlo's style.
Frida Kahlo style: Floral silk headband. Nordstrom.

Frida Kahlo as Inspiration

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

Frida Kahlo (attr.).

Throughout her life, Kahlo showed intense resilience and a willingness to take both the good and bad as part and parcel of what being alive is all about. As she stepped into all experiences while showing her best self, she created for us a portrait of what it is like to be human, and why that matters. Her art and, ultimately, her life, are a testament to what happens when you take pain and turn it into something beautiful.


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