Avant-Garb Mag interviewed Megan Retana ‘19 who shared about the influence of her Chicana and Mexican identity on her fashion and love for bold colors
Hometown: Brownsville, Texas
Interview by Hailey Wozniak and Darius Riley
Photos by Darius Riley
HW: What’s in your closet?
MR: It depends on the season. During the spring, I’ll usually have many sundresses or skirts in there. I’ve never really had a good winter wardrobe but I’m trying to accumulate one. I like wool skirts and funky sweaters from thrift stores. I’m also starting to get into matching sets. My mom was always into having things match for me. I used to think that was uncool but now I’m starting to embrace that. I got this Sax Fifth Avenue set at a thrift store, which has been one of my favorites for the winter. I also have a lot of shirts with Mexican designs and off-the-shoulder tops.
HW: What inspires your style?
MR: I’ve been riding on the trend train of chokers, platform sandals, and crop tops. I like the late 90s/early 2000s look. I have some basic things that I always come back to like this red dress that my sister had when she was in high school. It used to be longer but I had it altered. I believe in having staple items and I love red. I like having stuff that is so ugly that it’s cute. Most of my traditional Mexican stuff comes from what I’d wear in elementary school during Charro Days, a parade in late February that celebrates two border towns, Brownsville and Matamoros.
HW: Do you feel like you have a part of your home with you when you are wearing your Mexican-inspired clothing?
MR: When I lived in Brownsville, I wore some Mexican-made shirts around. It wasn’t until I went to boarding school in Massachusetts that I became aware of standing out. Throughout my courses in high school, I learned more about Mexican history, the Chicano movement and Chicana feminism. When I read more about Chicana feminism, I found a movement that I identified with. That’s when I started wearing way more traditional Mexican attire. I feel empowered when I do and I think it’s so pretty. I also love Frida Kahlo. I love her art and all of her accessories--it’s all very colorful. People should wear more color!
HW: Did you notice a standard mode of dress when you came here?
MR: Definitely. People aren’t really into colors. The Bowdoin uniform, if it were written down in the handbook, would be leggings or sweatpants, bean boots, a flannel, a sweatshirt, and Chelsea boots.
HW: Did you feel pressure to adjust your style when you came to Bowdoin?
MR: I expected a generally homogenous style at a liberal arts school in Maine but I didn’t feel pressure to adjust. At the beginning of my first year, I would dress up for class and people would say “Oh wow! You look so fancy.” I think I have a different definition of formal, fancy attire than other people do. Even for parties, I love getting dressed up. That’s half of the fun of going out!
DR: How do you choose your outfits?
MR: I have a hard time figuring out what I’m going to wear in the morning. There are times when I try on five different outfits. If it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t look right. I’m a bit neurotic about how things fit, so if shoes don’t fit perfectly or a skirt doesn’t fit right, I don’t wear them. Comfort isn’t usually one of the first things I consider. I like to construct something cool out of the clothes that aren’t really special on the hanger but work well with other items once they’re put in an outfit. That might mean combining patterns or colors or layers. There are some days when I wear jeans—I love denim. I have three denim dresses, several pairs of jeans and denim jackets. And sometimes I’ll layer denim.
DR: What do you want to convey with your style?
MR: With some of the pieces, specifically the ornamented, colorful Mexican pieces, I want to convey that I’m a Chicana and a Mexicana. I’m proud of the effect it has a on a campus where students generally don’t express themselves through fashion. I think that wearing bold colors or particularly interesting pieces gives me some confidence. Some people might feel that by dressing like everyone else, they gain a sense of comfort, which is great, but I definitely think that when I dress differently, I get in touch with my identity.
HW: Where do you normally draw your inspiration from fashion wise?
MR: I have different pieces and sources throughout my life. My grandmother was a fashionista. She had very cool vintage jewelry and I think she was my first source of inspiration. When I was younger, I started going to vintage shops and looking at 50s, 60s, and 70s era vintage clothing. My sister is older so she would always get more grown-up clothes and fashion is definitely important to her but we've diverged on our styles. I guess now I'm really inspired by the women of Chicana feminism. Unapologetically brown, loud, colorful, proud. Also, I love looking at clothes on different Instagram accounts. Mostly through vintage stores and thrift stores. There's this one in Maine called Dreaming Tree Vintage that I've gotten so many things from.
HW: Why do you think it's important to talk about fashion?
MR: I think that the critique of fashion is misguided, especially when people say that caring about fashion means privileging wealth or luxury. That's not really thought through. I’ve found that fashion connects people, especially for the women of color on campus who generally don’t adhere to campus fashion norms. They wear colors, they wear heels, they wear jewelry. In my experience, I’ll be walking on campus, see someone and connect with them because of what we’re both wearing. It’s really cool because this interaction happens a lot with other women of color, so also connecting on that level.
DR: Is there anything that you’re too scared to wear?
MR: I think that I’m adventurous but sometimes I’m not sure if I can wear something here. I have a lot of clothes that I’ve put away because I don’t really wear them. It’s very easy for me to feel comfortable wearing Mexican fashion because I grew up on the border and I’m brown, but sometimes crossing cultural fashion trends becomes a sensitive subject. This is a beautiful dress that I got it at a thrift store back home. I even got it tailored and everything. I see many African-American women wearing similar patterned dresses or head wraps around campus and I’m unsure if it would be wrong for me to wear this. My absolute favorite item is this beaded dress. I’m pretty sure that every single sequin was hand sewn.
HW: Can you tell us about your accessories?
MR: I love earrings and accessorizing. I don’t really have a lot. I wish I had more. I’ve lost a lot while traveling. I really like Mexican-style, dangly and funky earrings. I mostly get my jewelry from thrift stores or Salvo and I have a few from a farmer’s market in Brownsville. My favorite style of earring is like Mexican-inspired. I love gold hoops and super big hoops. Big gold hoops are so cool and can go with anything. I like chokers and also layering gold necklaces. I think that I definitely wear gold more than I wear silver. I want to get more into rings.