Mariachi music is far more than just a tourist attraction or strip-mall novelty
It’s a rich cultural tradition from Mexico that comes with its own lineage of costumes and designs. Mariachi music is still hugely popular in Mexico and parts of Central America, and mariachi bands achieve levels of success reserved for pop stars in the rest of the world. If you are joining a mariachi band, or arranging a costume for a special production or party, make sure you get the many parts of the mariachi uniform correct.
Mariachi music started as rural music among the farmers on the Mexican countryside, and as such it was a very humble musical genre with the musicians dressed in the white shirts and pants that were common among the farmers of the time. As Mexico gradually developed its economy, however, the farmers migrated to the cities and brought their unique music along with them. The Mexican government used Mariachi music as a chance to produce something unique that would help build Mexican national identity and cultural heritage, and the support of city businesses and the Mexican government added a great deal of money to the Mariachi industry. Today, Mariachi bands have rich costumes with unique instruments and flash set pieces – all combining to produce the only “true” Mexican musical genre. Today, “Mariachi” refers to the city-oriented Mexican music that came out of the “Son” style – with most performers wearing costumes called “charro” outfits.
The Charro Outfit
Mariachi musicians are known for their colorful outfits, outfits that actually come from the rodeo tradition – a special type of Mexican rodeo called the coleadero y charreada. These rodeo uniforms were already the most famous types of costumes in Mexico when the Mexican government decided to start its heavy promotion of the mariachi music – so they were the natural choice for a musician costume as well.
The Mariachi outfit thus consists of a few main parts. Mariachi performers wear the short jackets popularized by rodeo riders – short because they are usually worn while on horseback. Mariachi pants fit snugly and contain many shiny buttons, and the mariachi performers finish off the look with a huge bow tie, long cavalry boots, and a traditional Mexican sombrero. While the sombrero was invented as a practical hat to keep the sun out of the eyes of horse riders, it has turned into a cultural keystone – and new sombreros are made in ever-increasing sizes and impractical (yet awesome looking) styles.
Mariachi music throughout the world has evolved depending on the setting, so mariachi performers in the United States might have very different interpretations of the charro outfit than others in Mexico. In general, Mariachi performers within Mexican cities stay very close the archetype for the costume – and their costumers are the most expensive with the highest degree of ornamentation. Mariachi bands in other parts of the country, or in the United States, tend to be a little less formal – although performers sometimes dress up their costumes with additional accessories like spurs or red ribbon belts. Female mariachi performers usually wear a skirt along with their jackets – although traditionally the Mariachi bands in Mexico were male-only clubs.