In Mexico, love and money are unmentionables

Red panties bring romance, yellow promise wealth

January 01, 2004|By Dane Schiller | Dane Schiller,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MEXICO CITY - It doesn't matter whether you've been naughty or nice, because the color of your underpants is the key to your new year's fortune.

That's the belief of many Mexicans, and for those seeking money or romance in 2004, last night the annual underwear rush was on.

The origins of the tradition are obscure. Followed mostly by women, it dictates that when the clock strikes 12 for the new year, those wanting love should be in red underwear and those wanting money should wear yellow.

Despite the tough economic times that have gripped this country - and the abundance of yellow and red unmentionables now available at clothing stores - sales clerks say the desire for love is apparently outracing the need for money.

Still, some of the more desperate revelers planned to increase their odds by double bagging, so to speak, and wearing two pairs.

"At the last minute, I'll yank them on," confided Mariana Ojeda, a secretary who let the world know her needs by pulling red panties on over her New Year's party outfit.

Ojeda, 26, was shopping for a friend who also needs love when she saw a two-for-one special and got herself something.

A mall clerk wrapping red panties in tissue paper last week was flanked by dozens of other red undergarments piled next to her register and ready for the sales floor.

Department stores, lingerie shops and even street vendors' tables were raided by shoppers searching for red and yellow charms, ranging from the tiniest bits of lace to the boldest of boxers to the most ample "granny panties."

"[Red] thongs sell the most when it is cold because people want to be with someone to keep them warm," laughed Maritza Martinez, 33, a clerk at Erik's, which specializes in outrageous lingerie.

The upscale El Palacio de Hierro clearly catered to shoppers who need love more than money. There were few yellow underpants, but many options in red, including a sheer Italian bikini for a mere $72.

How this all started seems to be anybody's guess.

Paco Zamora, 32, a sales clerk from Acapulco, said he grew up with the lucky underwear tradition and insisted he learned about it in elementary school.

"It goes back to the Aztec times - they used to paint their clothes," he said with the confidence of the founders of an empire that dominated the country from what is now Mexico City.

No other shoppers or clerks recalled such a school lesson, but they couldn't come up with a better-sounding origin for the tradition, which has versions in Spain and parts of South America. Red is a widespread symbol of love, and yellow approximates gold, some said.

Claudia Benitez, 21, said she doesn't care how the tradition started but wants more tasteful options.

"I really do not find red underwear that attractive," said Benitez, an airline customer service clerk. "Black is classier than red, which reminds you of porno."

Still, Benitez said she'll use anything that gives her an edge in the search for love.

"It is kind of fun," she said. "It is a great excuse to go shopping for underwear, and people believe it."

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