Context: AR is a 19 year old woman living in Los Angeles. This picture shows her wearing a dress that she wore in highschool to be a dama in a friend’s quinceñera. Quinceñeras are “a tradition in Mexican culture and also in other Latin American cultures where, when a girl turns fifteen, she has this really big party and she does elaborate dance numbers with her damas and chambelanes, which are kind of like her backup dancers… On the day of the party, she’ll do a bunch of dance routines with them and then they’ll all celebrate.” The girl whose quinceñera it is usually chooses the outfits of the damas, though the damas get to keep the dresses after.
Analysis: Even in a tradition that is technically celebrating one person, all the people in supporting roles are those who actually make the tradition what it is. In some ways, damas are like bridesmaids – wearing matching outfits, supporting their friend on a big day that announces them as a woman, as a new person. However, that AR still wears this dress shows that traditions can be pervasive and seep into the rest of a person’s life. While the dama dress was once a highly important aspect of this tradition, AR now wears it in casual ways (she told me that she has played soccer in it) but also in newly formal ways (she had a celebration similar to a quinceñera but much smaller, without all of the traditional preparations, and she wore this dama dress to that). When it comes to apparel, it seems wasteful to purchase something to wear it only once – hence, bringing tradition into the realm of the ordinary is both practical and also adds a sense of joy to the people who can experience an article of clothing in so many ways. Perhaps every time the item is worn, a new connotation can be given to the original tradition and likewise, a new tradition can be formed just by wearing it in new places and in new ways.