Last weekend, my roommate and I were frantically getting ready for a holiday party. She asked me the night before what I would wear, to which I replied, “I’m not sure yet, maybe sequins or maybe my Selkie puff dress.” I ended up wearing the latter, paired with a pearl hair pin and glitter platform sandals, while she chose a red jumpsuit and a Christmas-inspired headband. We both left our rooms dolled up to the nines, or as we say in Puerto Rico, emperifollás. Only we didn’t go anywhere: the party was in our living room.
This type of scene is one of the pillars of my holiday memories. Every year, my mom and I would go to our local mall to get new outfits for the month-and-a-half-long season (Puerto Rico has one of the longest holiday seasons in the world) finding the best deals to get the most out of our money, deciding whether a bright red dress or knee-high boots were appropriate to go dance in my aunt’s living room or my uncle’s garage. As we shopped, there was never a moment of doubt where we’d ask ourselves, “Why are we even dressing up for this?”
Everyone else followed along too once the season started. My cousins would constantly message to ask what everyone would wear, inadvertently outdoing each other as the events passed by, leading up to the year’s biggest event: New Year’s Eve. This was always the best night of the season for me, as it was excusable to be as extravagant as possible in the name of starting the new year right. Outfits included little black dresses, sequined frocks, layered jewelry, sky-high heels, and going-out tops, while kids were also dressed up in flower headbands and adorable tulle dresses. Even the next day, when we’d resume the festivities around noon to celebrate New Year’s Day around my uncle’s fogón (a Puerto Rican version of a grill), the glam was equally matched through skinny jeans, metallic platforms, and chandelier earrings.
My family is far from the only one to transform their living room into the stage for their own fashion show. TikTok is full of people sharing their sala (or, living room) season looks, from leather trench coats and matching two-piece sets to knee-high boots and sheer turtlenecks, with the hashtags #salafit and #salaseason growing rapidly since the platform’s become a go-to. After decades of seeing this phenomenon play out in our families, people are admitting online that it’s a completely bizarre tradition, yet reclaiming it in the process.
Dressing up for sala season is still one of my most cherished holiday traditions — second only to Puerto Rican trova — because it always exuded the most joyful energy from my family members. Growing up in a rural area of Puerto Rico, access to glamour and luxury weren’t readily available. Yet, every year, when the holidays came around, I’d see every single one — including me and my mom — prepare their wardrobe with the few leftover funds they’d have after getting everyone a present, or finding ways to make last year’s dress work once again. It didn’t matter if the rhinestones were cheap, or if the dress came from Marshall’s sale section, everyone tried their best to celebrate in style.
Over the years, I’ve carried this tradition with me. Not just because I love fashion and work in the industry now, but because my family members taught me that, in a world stacked against us, there’s an obligation to grab every opportunity to cheer, especially if it involves sparkles.
Last year, when my boyfriend and I spent our first Christmas alone together — thanks to the 2021 Omicron wave — I spent an hour doing my hair and makeup and putting on my sala fit: a black taffeta skirt with a matching turtleneck and headband, paired with glitter platform sandals (pictured above). The following week, when New Year’s Eve came around, I went back into my ritual, sporting a black monochrome suit with a visible lace bra. We dined, danced, took pictures, and celebrated alone, but even if no one was there to see it, I’ll always remember that even the world continued its chaotic upheaval, we found joy in dressing up for ourselves.
As the years fly by, we’ll be doing the same over and over again — in style.