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June 14, 2017

Princess Leia’s Hairstyle: The Story Behind Iconic Star Wars' Buns Which Were Inspired by These Revolutionary-Era Mexican Women

It was revealed in this galaxy not so long ago: The famous hairdo that defined Star Wars' Princess Leia image was inspired by revolutionary Mexican women.

Back in 2002, when Episode II of Star Wars, Attack of the Clones was released, director George Lucas told TIME magazine that he “was working very hard to create something different that wasn't fashion.” Inspiration came, as Lucas put it, from a "turn-of-the-century Mexico" and “kind of Southwestern Pancho Villa woman revolutionary look.”

The buns became then the signature feature of Carrie Fisher's legendary character.

But it wasn't until Fisher's death that the serendipity of social media made this previously little-known Princess Leia trivia become viral.

It all started with a photo that the University of Texas at Austin associate professor Eric Tang posted on his Facebook wall. He visited an exhibition at the Denver Museum of Art called Star Wars and the Power of Costume and was surprised when he saw the photo of an unidentified revolutionary Mexican woman credited as the inspiration for big Leia's buns.

Tang was “excited to learn that the iconic hairdo was lovingly hijacked from women of the Mexican Revolution,” as he posted on his wall.

The serendipity of social media also made possible to identify the woman in the historical picture when her descendant Alexandra de la Rocha saw Tang's post. Her name was Clara de la Rocha, a noted colonel in the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), a movement against the long dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. She is one of Alexandra de la Rocha’s ancestors — her dad’s distant cousin. She died in 1970 and, in the photo below, is standing next to her father, General Herculano de la Rocha.

She is known for a key 1911 battle in Sinaloa, in northern Mexico. “She actually crossed a river on horseback… and was able to take out a power station in order to allow the rebel forces to attack during night without being seen,” says the younger De la Rocha. “She was a grizzled woman, as her father was. They were mountain people, and were actually miners and owned a lot of land. They were business people.”

At the time, George Lucas believed he was basing Leia’s style on turn-of-the-century female “soldaderas” in Mexico like Petra Herrera, Beatriz González Ortega, Angela ‘Angel’ Jiménez, Dolores Jiménez y Muro, and Margarita Neri who had fought valiantly during the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Civil War by transporting goods, cooking meals, setting up camp sites, carrying equipment, and smuggling ammunition and medicine across the front lines.

Kendra Van Cleave of Frock Flicks, a website that reviews Hollywood historical costuming, told the BBC how some young Hopi women wore a “squash blossom” hairstyle – used during a ceremony that celebrated the time of the winter solstice, Soya’la – which bares a striking resemblance to the one rooted in Hollywood lore.

“[The hairstyle] consists of two side arrangements which aren’t actually buns – they’re more loops of hair. The hair is parted in the center, then wrapped around a U-shaped ‘hair bow’ made of wood. The hair is wrapped in a figure of eight pattern, then tied at the middle and spread out to create the two semi-circles,” she said.

This hairstyle became more widely known in the early 20th century due to photography.

“Many of the arty, bohemian women of the 1920s adopted 'ethnic' fashion as a means of demonstrating their difference from the mainstream and therefore as a feminist statement.” Van Cleave added.



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