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Kourtney Kardashian’s Virgencita Wedding Veil Is Still Sparking Debate Among Latinos: Is It Cultural Appropriation (Or Appreciation)?

Last month when Kourtney Kardashian stood at the altar to marry Travis Barker, another woman stole the show: la Virgen María.

As soon as the first photos began to trickle out on Twitter and Instagram, the debate began.

Some argued that the stunningly embroidered image of the Virgin Mary on Ms. Karshain’s veil was a touching homage to Mr. Barker’s faith. He, of the Catholic faith, has tattoos of the Blessed Mother on his head and forearm—while others were ready to revive the Spanish Inquisition and have her burned at the proverbial stake.

But using la Virgen as a motif on clothing, especially on ceremonial garments, is nothing new. Latinos have been doing this for quite some time.

Baptism outfits with la Virgencita have been popular for years. “I’ve been in the business for over 18 years and since then we have been selling them,” said Lorena Flores of Dream Kids. Her shop on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles sells suits and dresses for little kids, many of which feature la Morenita (the moniker by which many Mexican immigrants refer to her).

A quinceañera dress at Serenity Bridal. Photo my Elena de La Cruz for L.A. TACO.
A quinceañera dress at Serenity Bridal. Photo my Elena de La Cruz for L.A. TACO.
A quinceañera dress at Serenity Bridal. Photo my Elena de La Cruz for L.A. TACO.
A quinceañera dress at Serenity Bridal. Photo my Elena de La Cruz for L.A. TACO.

“As Latinos, the Virgin means so much to us: faith, protection, culture. That’s why parents want to include her on special occasions, asking for her protection over their children.”

Her shop also offers First Communion dresses and veils with la Virgen on them, popular far before Kourtney donned the masterpiece weaved by Dolce & Gabbana on her big day.

“When people would walk in and look around they would see the veil and liked it, but now they walk in asking for it,” confirming that interest has increased since the Kourtney moment.

For teenage girls, it is tradition to honor the Virgin Mary during their quinceañera by wearing a medallion with her image on it or leaving flowers for her at the church altar. In today’s extravagant quinceañera scene, with ruffled and embroidered ball gowns worthy of Austrian-Hungarian aristocrats of centuries past, the most confident teens make the bold move of sharing the spotlight on their big day with la Virgen de Guadalupe.

“The girl that would choose this dress is someone that values tradition,” shared Arisandi Olivares as she dressed a mannequin with an emerald green gown featuring Our Lady of Guadalupe, which costs $1,300. Serenity Bridal, the boutique in the Los Angeles garment district where she works, offers dozens of quinceañera dresses for the Gen Z teens to choose from, and many are gravitating toward designs that highlight more than themselves. “They also choose it because it’s a way of honoring their family and their culture.”

A Virgin Mary-adorned custom suit for a first communion.
A Virgin Mary-adorned custom suit for the first communion at Serenity Bridal. Photo by Elena de La Cruz for L.A. TACO.
A Virgin Mary-adored baptism outfit.
A Virgin Mary-adored baptism outfit at Serenity Bridal. Photo by Elena de La Cruz for L.A. TACO.

Mari Barreto was in the boutique picking up her own quince dress for the July celebration. Although she chose a princess-style gown, she thought the one with the Virgen de Guadalupe was beautiful, “showcasing one’s cultural roots is very on-trend right now,” she added.

“I was confused,” said her cousin Estrella Gonzalez when the topic of Kourtney’s veil came up. “I thought maybe it was because the wedding was in Italy, and then I thought it might be a bit of cultural appropriation. It was hard to tell her intent, I just hope she did it with respect and not just because of a trend.”

Given that Kourtney is part of the Kardashian machine, it can’t be ignored that the custom couture veil was undoubtedly the centerpiece of a coordinated fashion moment, but at the same time, she could have also included la Virgen María for genuine, heartfelt reasons, or at least reasons that would have honored Travis’ faith. By making the Blessed Mother the center of attention on such a momentous occasion, she shared the same spirit that has long inspired the practice among Latinos: an invocation of a personal sense of devotion that nobody else has the right to judge.

Some may nonetheless argue that the pious veil had no business being matched with the "puta dress" she wore underneath it. But the pious to puta dichotomy is an outdated concept dating to biblical times, and an impossible standard that women continue to be unjustly measured by. And it needs to stop.

While the Kardashians have certainly capitalized on the latter half of the dichotomy, in embracing the former, Kourtney showed up as her authentic self and presented to the masses her own version of an alternative, a path in which both the rebellious and religious can co-exist, and personal devotion is held as sacred.

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