the rosary, a rebellious jewel

One of the first moments when rosaries appeared in fashion consciousness happened in the 30s and 40s in Los Angeles. Young Chicanos, known as pachucas and pachucos, wore rosaries partly to proudly highlight their Hispanic heritage. The sons and daughters of Mexican migrants born in the United States began to form their own identity, an identity clearly distinct from white Protestant America. The men wore a flamboyant style of draped pants, colorful shirts, and strong suspenders, often associated with wooden or bead rosaries. The women often wore fishnet stockings, flowers in their hair, and fitted skirts that reacted to the hyper-femininity of the time. The style was popularized by the play and film Zoot Suit, which talked about the East Zoot Suit Riots of East LA.

Rosary men by Santa Muerte worn by Dani

The pachucos were victims of systemic racism and segregation from white America and were often considered by their first-generation Mexican peers as "not really Mexican." Therefore, wearing a rosary brought them closer to their past while also helping them adopt a new language and style. This style evolved into a cholo and chola culture in the 60s, which borrowed many aspects of pachuco fashion and reinterpreted it as a more marked, lowrider, and pin-up aesthetic. In some cases, rosaries also signified gang membership, with beads of different colors representing different members belonging to gangs. In others, the rosary was worn as a symbol of protection and a reflection of Latinidad.

At the end of the 70s, rosaries made their appearance in gothic and punk subcultures. Goths and punks often wore rosaries to reject conservatism and sometimes to criticize the grip of puritan values on American and British culture. Among the early gothic and punk figures who used rosaries as fashion and used them in their video images were the leader of the band Christian Death, Rozz Williams, member of Bauhaus, and Depeche Mode.

Rosary men by Santa Muerte Paris

"Although there is no dominant religion for gothic culture, many are attracted to images of the sacred - whether it be early medieval artworks, Mexican Day of the Dead altars, Celtic crosses, etc.," says Liisa Ladouceur, author of Encyclopedia Gothica and creator of the video "40 years of Goth style". "These things are a memento mori, more than anything. Catholic images are particularly attractive for their overly dramatic beauty - the rosary is not an austere cult; it is also complex, and a pleasure to see and touch. So, besides the convenience of finding them abundant and cheap in thrift stores, especially in the early 80s, before goth-branded merchandise was more widely available, I understand why so many goths are attracted to these garments."

Men's rosary worn by Jonathan

In 1984, Madonna wore the rosary in her video "Like a Virgin". She described her relationship with them as a "security blanket": they symbolize the Catholicism she grew up with and became part of her religious brand image. All aspects of Catholicism were integrated into her act, from her name to the title of her album (Like a Virgin) to her quest for icon status.

"She was the first to use traditional culture and be visible through videos with rosaries," says Diego Rinallo, professor of marketing at Kedge Business School and co-author of Consumption and Spirituality. "Madonna was transgressive… She normalized wearing the rosary outside. It was a break, moving something from the religious world and putting it into a profane moment of fashion. "

Madonna. Photo Clifford / Getty

Many fashion historians credit Madonna not only with popularizing rosaries but also with fashion's interest in playing with religious imagery and iconography.

Fashion photographer Shawn Griffin wrote his thesis, The church of fashion, on the intersection of religion and fashion. He studied how fashion designers, marketers, and photographers have used images reflecting religious iconography. In Griffin's view, religious imagery in today's fashion world ranges from models posing as saints to draped clothing reminiscent of religious art to the use of rosaries and crosses as adornment. "In the late 80s and early 90s, the rosary trend really started with the album Immaculate with Madonna and Jean Paul Gaultier who designed her looks. That's when you saw bead rosaries reach high fashion."

Men's rosary

Men's Rosary Soto Toro by Santa Muerte

Then, in the 2000s, Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen both featured rosaries on their runways. Rinallo believes that Dolce & Gabbana's use of rosaries marked a turning point in fashion, particularly because of the significance of two Italian designers featuring rosaries against a predominantly Catholic backdrop.

Naomi Campbell wearing a rosary. Photo: Sota / Getty

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