Costa Rica has long been a favorite destination of vacationers and adventure-travel enthusiasts thanks to its wealth of pristine beaches, lush rain forests and dizzyingly diverse wild life. However, an unshakable focus on Costa Rica’s natural beauty has caused visitors to overlook much of the vibrant local culture blooming before their eyes. Groundbreaking environmental legislation and a buzzy indie music scene have made San José, Costa Rica’s bustling capital, the epicenter of numerous arts and culture movements casting a new light on the small but influential Central American nation.
Locals are accustomed to tourists retreating from San José’s grey urban sprawl, choosing instead the beachside fantasies they’ve been promised on Trip Advisor. Yet, there is terrific beauty to be found in the contrasts between the city’s abrasive architecture and the verdant mountain ranges that frame it, which serve as the backdrop to an unfolding fashion insurrection. Flashy Costa Rican influencers and independent brands are adapting global trends like normcore and elevated sportswear to their own innate tropical ease, promoting local enterprising and conscientious shopping habits into a swirling new universe of stylistic expression.
“You definitely get a lot of those wannabe-Berlin, all-black, slob-squat looks,” says Kevin León of San José based production company Super Legítimo, who lists some of the city’s most notable style waves in colorful detail. “A lot of kids double down on the all-grey vibes of the city,” he says, “which contrasts against the green of the mountains. You get a lot of punks avoiding the sun, while other people focus on the more tropical vibes. Folks in the queer community are also paving their own way. Las Virus and Las Weisas are great examples, and there are also a lot of kids in the dance and ballroom community thinking about movement in fashion.”
Nearly a year ago, León and his team founded the SJO Bazar, a flea market bringing together local designers and vintage shop owners whose main clientele is a growing demographic of eco-friendly youth aiming to reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion. DJs and live bands add ambience to the bazaar’s curated shopping experience, though León stresses the space is welcoming to everyone. He sums up the bazaar’s mission as “Catering to the vegan, upcycling, Americana fans, and their abuelas.”
Vintage stores and Americana – second-hand shops branding their clothes as stylish imports from the US – are extremely popular among Costa Rica’s budget-conscious sartorialists. Mercedes Oller of influential garage rock band Las Robertas is one of the scene’s most visible vintage fashion lovers, heavily inspired by bohemians of the late 1960s like Jane Birkin, Joni Mitchell and George Harrison. Some of her favorite stores include 70s Vintage Clothing, Chica de Pelo Rojo and The Good Times, and she even runs her own space called Jane and Serge with husband Russell Davis, of Ave Negra.
Wary of the collective conformity surrounding many of today’s most popular trends, Oller cites San José’s errand-running señoras as her favorite local purveyors of street style inspiration. “I’m obsessed with their tailored suits, chic bags, fussy earrings and extravagant glasses,” she says.
In many cases, the popularity of Americanas also underscores a pervasive and problematic reverence for US and European influence. Costa Rican designers and brands regularly question local fixation with foreign waves, while also attempting to disrupt colonial patterns. COSTA, an independent label described by Costa Rican blog Al Dele as “a project promoting local consciousness and global perspective,” aims to redirect shoppers’ focus from foreign fashion trends to locally sourced products and vendors. COSTA has a regular spot at SJO Bazar, selling their own streetwear designs, as well as plants, seeds and ceramics that emphasize the wealth of resources found right at home and at the average person’s fingertips.
Costa Rica’s exuberant fashion scene is teeming with ethical shopping habits and a desire to uplift local industry. Bearing that in mind, we’ve assembled a list of local designers, photographers, models and beauty professionals putting a spotlight on homegrown style. These inspiring fashionistas and brands are reminding their followers that style is not built on labels, but on the joy we can all find in aesthetic self-expression and a cute outfit.
Nearly a decade after making a splash in Costa Rica’s indie music scene with her rowdy garage rock band Las Robertas, Mercedes Oller remains one of the most stylish musicians around. Meche – as most folks call her – is a lover of vintage fashions, heavily inspired by the loose and easygoing silhouettes of 1960s icons like Jane Birkin and Nico of the Velvet Underground. She has a burning passion for accessories too, regularly picking up unusual jewelry and boots while on tour. Though an expert at spotting pieces with history, Meche also frequents local tailors, commissioning dresses and sailor-cut pants that compliment the flashier treasures in her wardrobe. Meche also runs her own vintage shop called Jane and Serge and is gearing up to launch a line of beaded bags called Les Flors.
The Curly Gang
Uplifting Costa Rica’s underserved Afro-Caribbean beauty community, The Curly Gang is creating and promoting products that specifically cater to the needs of curly-haired individuals. Founded by Leimy De la Rosa, who migrated from the Dominican Republic six years ago, The Curly Gang started as a health and wellness page providing a resource for people struggling to find products that fit their hair care routines. De la Rosa highlights products by Afro Love and Mundo Cosmético, which are imported from the Dominican Republic and Brazil and can be found at stores like Miami Cosmetics and Super Salón. She also sells her own deep conditioning treatments called Bendecida and Gangsta Tropical, which she manufactures and distributes independently and can be found at trendy local salons like The Cult.
Whether she’s rocking short hair or braids, Terrasha’s bold personal aesthetic is on point at every turn. Her Instagram page pops with neon outfits, big hoops and motocross-inspired fashions, displaying a hyper-cool savvy for online trends and how they translate to the streets. The DJ, singer and model has also collaborated with The Curly Gang and recurring ballroom function Cocktails & Vogue, so her hustle is as strong as her eye for fashion.
Editor, stylist and club kid Mauricio Cruz is no stranger to bending gender and fashion conventions. As one half of artsy queer agitators Las Virus, Cruz became a staple of San José nightlife by organizing hedonistic parties that invited attendees to let loose on the dance floor as well as in their wardrobes. On the flip side, Cruz’s eye for avant-garde fashion and clean presentation have proven instrumental in his styling work, recently collaborating with US rapper Brooke Candy and serving as fashion editor at Traffic Magazine. Cruz also launched his first capsule collection as Mauricio Cruz Studio in late 2018, with several of his mod-inspired designs available for purchase at boutique Piso Siete.
Elegant ready-to-wear brand MATTE is elevating the tropical ease favored by Costa Rican women with garments perfect for cocktail parties around town. Mariela Escalante’s playful designs balance sexiness with demure silhouettes, often contrasting high slits or open backs with covered up necklines and long sleeves. Sophisticated simplicity is at the core of Escalante’s design aesthetic and her fabric choices are often inspired by prints found in tapestries, oriental rugs and wallpaper. You can find MATTE pieces at select boutiques around San José, or make an appointment to visit the studio and get a peek at upcoming collections.
Born in Cuba and raised in Costa Rica, Jessi González is a popular style influencer known for her love of bright colors and sophisticated silhouettes. The fashion designer and model has collaborated with local labels like MATTE and appeared in Vogue Mexico, perennially dressed in the clean lines and lux garments that have come to epitomize her image.
Rustic, chic and ethically made, CRUDA’s impeccable shoe designs will have you reconsidering your next visit to Payless. The brand is in tune with Costa Rica’s sustainable fashion movement, promoting upcycling by repurposing leather and wood for most of their models. Designer Pamela Hernández is also unafraid of exploring color and new shapes, making CRUDA’s vast inventory of boots, sandals and clogs an exciting new option for the forward thinking trendsetter.
Since its founding in 2017, streetwear label COSTA has maintained a mission to spotlight the wealth of talent and design brewing in Costa Rica while questioning the local influence of foreign trends. From rain ponchos in bright primary colors to meticulously printed t-shirts, patches and even ceramics, COSTA’s designs are vibrant and highly conceptual. You can find their pieces at boutiques Ruta Urbana and Kiosko SJO, and keep an eye out for seasonal playlists that provide soundtracks to new collections and special launches.
San José trap crew El Tajo might be the new kids on the scene, but quirky thrift shop finds and loads of attitude are also making them the best dressed boys in el barrio. Just check out the Super Legítimo-produced video for their single “Cleta, Sol y G,” where tailored pants, colorful windbreakers and bootleg sidewalk treasures coalesce into some of the coolest streetwear you’ll find in Costa Rica today.
Melanie Wanchope is a beautiful globetrotting Afro-Caribeña who is elevating minimalist streetwear with her own bold personal styling. Racing shirts, overalls and slinky bathing suits are all on display in Wanchope’s Instagram page and modeling gigs with The Curly Gang, Coral Bikinis and Toro Rosa are rapidly making her a favorite of Costa Rican brands.
A good outfit can become great with the right accessories, and SIC. Clutches are creating sleek and whimsical pieces perfect for adding a little extra shimmer to your look. Each clutch is made in acrylic and reinforced with steel, adding industrial toughness to Guiri Uribe’s delicate designs. Bags come in glitter, pastel and iridescent styles and can be purchased from their Shopify page or at local boutique Piso Siete.
Fashion photographer Yuri Orozco always captures her models in a soft and dreamy fantasy, regardless of whether she’s shooting in the studio or out in nature. Orozco’s Instagram page also reveals her artistic versatility, bouncing between street style passion projects, glossy ready-to-wear features for MATTE, and even promo work for ultra-modern furniture design line Bodega.
Part of the joy of fashion is the ability to find beauty and inspiration in between the lines of everyday life. Street style blog Urban Bones is doing just that – capturing smiles, prints and unusual flair spotted around San José that add much-needed color and humor to the city’s somber urban character.