Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Of history and hand-stitching: The responsibility of wearing a Charro suit

by Lori Galarreta | Take Two®

Francisco Galvez in a full Charro suit and hat. KPCC/Lori Galarreta

Not just anyone can wear a Charro suit. And if you live in Southern California, you've almost definitely seen one. That flashy three-piece suit with glistening embroidery and giant sombrero?

You know... the ones that mariachis wear?

2007: Mariachis wait for work on Cinco de Mayo, at Mariachi Plaza in Los Angeles.
2007: Mariachis wait for work on Cinco de Mayo, at Mariachi Plaza in Los Angeles. Ann Johansson/AP

Yep. That suit.

But a mariachi musician is no charro. A charro is a horseman – a cowboy – from Mexico. 

As Francisco Galvez explains, "The mariachi adopted the charro suit but with way more colors, it's not traditional because they wear way more colors. They'd wear pinks and bright reds, greens, blues."

Galvez is the owner of an online shop based here in L.A. where you can actually buy these outfits. The store is called Charro Azteca and it's pretty new, selling what Galvez says are truly authentic Mexican-made goods such as hand-stitched, tailor-made Charro suits.

When Take Two visited one of Galvez's warehouses in Paramount, he spoke to us about what the charro suit means to him — and what it means to Mexican culture.

Discovering his inner Charro

"My parents migrated from Zacatecas, Mexico, where Charreria is very popular. I was born and raised here. As a millennial growing up in the melting pot of L.A., I grew up with a lot of different cultures: African-American, white, Caucasian, Asian, Samoan ... so, growing up it was a lot of finding oneself. It was confusing. 

Once I graduated from high school ... I wanted to spread how proud I was of my culture. My father actually practiced Charreria in Mexico ... so that was the one thing that I knew the best."

Francisco Galvez dons the full Charro suit.
Francisco Galvez dons the full Charro suit. KPCC/Lori Galarreta

With a great Charro suit, comes great responsibility

 "...there's an etiquette that they have to follow. So, they wear it with pride, with a lot of history, a lot of culture and one of our main things is to keep that culture and tradition alive in the United States."

... When you wear the Charro apparel, it's about wearing it correctly. It's about making sure that you're holding the traditions from history and making sure that we keep them alive.

And the way Galvez plans to keep the history and traditions of Charreria alive? Through Charro Azteca. He wants to share the culture with everyone who's interested. Though, he does have words of caution to those who are not of Mexican descent:

"I feel that as long as you ... know that you're wearing a big responsibility, go for it. But just don't wear it in an irresponsible way.

But it's a beautiful thing to see that people are embracing Charreria and I just think it's more of a stepping stone to tie their past to their present or we can take it to the future now."

The look and history

"Charreria is Mexico's national sport ... [it] involves nine skills that were learned in cattle ranching ... developed since 200 or 300 years ago ... and those nine skills are graded into points.

While the origin of Charreria is well known, the pattern that borders the suits may come as a surprise:

"The Greek pattern that comes on the majority of our Charro suits is inspired by Greek culture. So, what you will see in Sparta or in Greece, these patterns are very squared, that's what we embraced, and kind of what we adapted to our Charro suits a couple of hundred years ago."

The signature Greek pattern featured on the greater part of the suits is also the key to deciphering its authenticity. It's intricate and labor intensive, not something that could easily be replicated or mass produced by a machine.

Close-up on intricate Greek pattern on a Charro blazer.
Close-up on intricate Greek pattern on a Charro blazer. KPCC/Lori Galarreta

"It's pretty simple to tell what's authentic or not ... it's something that's made by old Mexican hands. There have been a ton of people that try to duplicate this, but it's very difficult for a machine to give so much of the detail, and apart from that, their heart and soul ... to make one of these trajes charros, which can take weeks to make."

Close-up on intricate Greek pattern on a Charro blazer.
Close-up on intricate Greek pattern on a Charro blazer. KPCC/Lori Galarreta

Charro aspirations

A wall full of Charro blazers at a Charro Azteca warehouse in Paramount.
A wall full of Charro blazers at a Charro Azteca warehouse in Paramount. KPCC/Lori Galarreta

"I could say ... I'm a big fan of Jeff Bezos, Zappos, which is another company I look up to a lot. I want to become the Amazon of authentic Mexican products.

So, my next steps now are to go to Mexico more often and find these artisans. They don't promote themselves, they don't have marketing objectives. It's just word of mouth. So, my goal is to find them, bring the product here and deliver it to every consumer in the country, making sure that if someone wants something authentically Mexican, they can call on Charro Azteca."

Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Francisco Galvez in full Charro attire at his Charo Azteca warehouse in Paramount.
Francisco Galvez in full Charro attire at his Charo Azteca warehouse in Paramount. KPCC/Lori Galarreta

To listen to the full segment, click the blue play button above. 

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