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The Continental Look

How some of us Chicanos rolled in the 60's

By Slowjoe
Published on LatinoLA: November 12, 2008


The Continental Look


My wife and I got an invitation to her high school reunion, I'm not hot on reunions theses days. As I approach my 58th birthday, besides being no spring chicken, time has not been kind. My panza has a life of its own, growing at an alarming rate and not feeling guilty about embarrassing me in public. Don't get me wrong: I don't mind getting old but getting dressed up, well, that's something else.

I looked in my closet, took a peek and sighed. Nothing fits anymore, nothing's in style and I don't have a clue. I'm not sure when it started, but sometime in the 90's I gave up. Thank God for the wango pants the bangers made popular. That seemed to suit me nicely.

There was a time that I was a slave to fashion. The hippy thing, Chicano militant, pachuco, for a brief moment during the disco years the Ben Johnson thing (yes I had the big shoes), the Hawaiian bohemian look and of course my new wave urban Chicano crumpled wool suit days. But of the entire incursion into style, my most profound statement had to be when I sported the "Continental."

The Continental Style of dress was a Chicano thing back between 1964 and 1966, a split from the more common khakis, white crew neck tees and Sir Guys. Although the word Continental may historically mean something else altogether, the term was used in the 'hood to describe a certain fashion or way of dressing mostly by Catholic school boys, Ivy Leaguers and car clubbers. It certainly was influenced by rules set down by high school dress codes and such but was a definite statement in individualism. Also it was somewhat shunned by other Chicanos as being too Anglo.

Start with the A-1 Racers, that rayon sharkskin-looking skinny pants that didn't have belt loops or cuffs. They were worn tight, Dean Martin-style. These were matched with a solid light color shirt with a large, four-inch collar called a Poor Boy, long sleeved with cuffs and cufflinks. These shirts were not available in no-iron so you had to soak them in starch and iron the crap out of them. It was part of the program.

All this was worn under a black, blue or maroon long sleeve sweater.

Next the shoes, penny loafers (with the penny lodged in the front), wingtips, creams or Beatle boots, depending on your musical taste. Now here's something crucial: You must only sport a black cotton sock, that's right. And for the piece de resistance, a dark navy double breasted woolen P-Coat only found at the local Army/Navy surplus store, worn with the collar up (even on hot days).

We're not done yet; hair style was crucial and involved special looks.

Now here is where there can be some controversy but hair was usually worn semi-short on the sides, medium long at the top, no sideburns, tapered in the back and get this, parted in the middle. Now because of the times, long hair Beatle-style was beginning to crop up and of course the emerging 'Mod' scene also influenced many and eventually was the demise of the Continental.

Influences were certainly the 'Ducky Boys' of the English invasion, especially the Rolling Stones. Also Thee Midnighters and other East L.A. bands who had the Continental look, the Rat Pack and other American icons, but not the Beatles, although interesting enough, even though hair and shoes resonated in the look, the idea that the Beatles were any influence was nil because at that time they were considered "way too pop" and too lame.

It wasn't until their later psychedelic faze that they became hip. Well, in those days, I was a young handsome and, dare I say, much slimmer fellow. I was proud and excited, being a part of something new and exclusive, and yes, sometimes we had to fight for the right to be 'Continentals'

There's a time when assimilation into the mainstream becomes a reality for young Chicanos. Children start to embrace the idea that they, too, are part of the American scene and that the time to contribute is warranted. We see this in our current culture, in music, art, expression, comedy and other ways. Young people want to feel a part of their everyday existence and proudly contribute to the overall wellbeing of pop culture. Even as flamboyant, sarcastic, innocent and misguided as it sometimes seems, the rite of passage is inherent, important and crucial to the expansion of ideas that form our great society.

We as a people will always be Latino. No matter what has been worn, we remain our mother's and father's children just a few miles from an imaginary border. Our sense of style will always reflect the past as we individually interpret it. That being said, our unique situation as Chicanos also allows for the westernization, expansion and merger of different ideas in order to make our presence known and to enrich our existing communities.

The fact that it may sometimes offend or misconstrue is unfortunate.

The intent has always been honorable but daring and different, not unlike kids of every generation and race. The difference may be that our Pre-Columbian indigenous cultures; the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacano, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, Maya, Andes, Inca, Moche, Chibcha, and Ca??aris were profound stylists who remain some of the most beautifully ornamented peoples of all time.

So, was it cool that my friends and I took on the establishment to make a fashion statement back so many years ago? I don't know, but I always relish the thought that kids could be so bold. The difference between adults and young people is that, as a whole, they're not afraid to take that chance.

Well, I when to that reunion, wearing a combination of things I threw together. Dark and loose in solid colors to help my cause, I emphasized my good parts like my hair and well my hair. I also drove there in my beautiful chopped and lowered 1951 Ford Custom Tudor Sedan (I had to make a fashion statement).

About Slowjoe:
Just another car dude from South San Gabriel
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