The Concha Belt

Today is my maternal grandmother’s birthday. I believe she would have been 96 today. My grandma Corine absolutely loved to celebrate her birthday. One of the cutest photos I have of her is with a little helium balloon floating over her while she sported a tiny birthday hat and a big smile. Her birthday and mine fall in the same month as the Fiestas de Santa Fe~ “a New Mexico tradition since 1712.” I wish my grandma would have been around this year to see the Fiestas de Santa Fe mark a 300 year anniversary. She surely would have been celebrating by wearing her silver squash blossom necklace and her favorite “butterfly design” concha belt. Not long ago, one of my mom’s younger sisters passed on my grandma’s belt. The belt has become one of the precious treasures in our family collection which I will preserve and care for until I myself die.

~~Corine Garcia’s “Butterfly Design” Concha Belt~~

I am sure that my grandma’s concha belt must be at least 30-40 years old. Since she loved to have her picture taken, I was sure I would be able to find a few of her wearing it. The earliest image I was able to find was one taken of her in her front yard in July of 1984. She was obviously already in fiesta mode with her cowgirl hat cocked to the side, some shades, her cowgirl boots, and a denim outfit with her concha belt as the center piece. A couple of weeks ago, I decide to wear the belt. I was surprised to see just how many compliments I got that day. My friend Gail was the first to say she liked the belt~ and I quickly said it was my grandma’s. She told me the belt was likely worth at least $1,000 because of the price of silver. Actually I think it is worth much more than that because one can put no price on intrinsic value. Others complimented me on the belt and said that “the conchas were a unique shape” and that the belt “was very eye catching.” It made me feel proud to think that my grandma had such good taste and style. She was a fashionable woman~ and she always took care of herself right up until her last days by painting her nails and wearing her best jewelry.

Grandma Corine and Felicia

For those of you who don’t know what a concha belt is, here is a very brief history. The first news articles I was able to locate were printed by the Albuquerque Tribune in the late 1950s and early 1960s. At one point, the Duke of Albuquerque helped “the duchess adjust a Navajo concha belt that was presented to the titled visitor by the Fred Harvey Co.” In 1959 the Las Vegas Optic printed an article titled “1959 Fiesta Show Opens In Santa Fe” on the same page where fashion show model “Mrs. R.D. Jameson” was featured. Apparently Mrs. Jameson was “always well groomed” and sported “tailored fashions.” The article said “informally at home or attending to her many duties in town,” Mrs. Jameson was “a familiar sight in her pleated squaw skirt cinched with a concha belt and topped with an always immaculate white blouse held at the neck with a silver conch.” By this time it was apparent to me that the concha belt was culture blind~ it was and may still be in style.

~~Corine Garcia in July of 1984~~
My maternal grandmother strikes a pose “Santa Fe Style” fiesta mode with her cowgirl hat cocked to the side, some shades, her cowgirl boots, and a denim outfit with her concha belt as the center piece.

The only historical article I was able to locate on the concha belt was printed in the 1959 Tribal Fair Edition of the Gallup Daily Independent. This article titled “Navajos Began Concha Belt,” said that these belts have been part of “the southwest for many years and have been also been adopted by non-Indians as part of the casual western style of dress.” The belts “contain a series of mounted stones, usually, turquoise.” and the word concha derives “from the Spanish word meaning shell because of the use of silver medallions, lightly raised in design that are used in rows and fastened to the belt proper, with other-strips of leather.” This article says that the belts date back to around 1860, but I would need to research more primary source documents before I could really confirm any of this.

There were also articles through the 70s and 80s, and by 1990 the New York Times News Service had picked up on the fashion trends of the Southwest. New Yorkers were buying up broomstick skirts and gathered three-tiered skirts with hand-stitched designs. One of these skirts was actually named “The Fiesta.” Wow~ when it came to the concha belt, New Mexico was ahead of the fashion capitals of the United States. If my grandma was alive, I would have loved to tell her that she played an early part in a fashion movement that is still around today. There may have been no better gift to give her for her birthday than that news!?

Explore posts in the same categories: Culture, Family Photos, Maternal Line, Memories, Mortality, New Mexico, Santa Fe, Women, Worthy Reads, Writers, Writing

6 Comments on “The Concha Belt”

  1. Gloria Irene Says:

    Yes, my mother was truly a very special and loving person. Happy Birthday Mom. We love you!!
    Good writing and great pictures. Good job as always.

  2. Seb Says:

    When I first saw that belt I thought “whoa! her Grandma was Jimi Hendrix!”. Then I read your wonderful story!

  3. Gilbert Lujan Says:

    Happy Birthday to your grandma !
    Dad

  4. Laura Lou Says:

    Very sweet and touching post. Good job on remembering our grandma.


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