Traditional Clothing of Guatemala

Mayan Clothing in Modern Day Guatemala

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After many centuries, the Mayan people still make up a majority of the population in Guatemala, and their fabulously colored traditional clothing can be seen throughout the country.For a smaller country, about the size of Tennessee, there is huge diversity within the Mayan community. This is particularly obvious when one looks at the varied designs in the clothing that are primarily worn by the Mayan women.

Traveling from town to town, one can witness the change in regions by the patterned designs and styles of the women’s blouses and skirts. Each one is representative of an area or town. Even the men in some areas have traditional clothing that includes special hats or knee-length pants decorated with birds.

Many of these traditional clothing items can be found for sale at Ixchel Textiles.

Blouses or Huipiles

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The Mayan blouse is called a huipil or güipil, or in on the more common Mayan languages – Kaqchikel – it is called a po’t. A huipil is generally woven by hand on a backstrap loom. The woman weaver generally spends several hours a day seated on her knees weaving the panels to make the huipil. This work can take up to 6 months for one huipil.

Each garment is uniquely decorated with a variety of designs and symbols, each with its own sacred meaning. The symbols range from the diamond, representing the universe and the path of the sun in it’s daily movement including the four cardinal directions, to geomorphic representations of mountains, rivers, animals, corn plants, and people. Sometimes a weaver will sew a small representation of her nahual in a discreet location on her garment so that it can always be kept close. Among the Quiché Maya (K’iche’) each person has his or her own nahual who watches over and protects him.

There are also variations in the garments based on the climate. In high mountainous regions, where the weather is cold and there is sometimes snow, the huipil can be very thick and heavy to keep its wearer warm. Some can weigh upwards of 5 pounds. In warmer regions, where it can be very hot and humid, the huipil might be lightweight and almost gauze-like in its design.

Skirts or Cortes

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Skirts or cortes are generally woven on a foot-powered, treadle loom and are usually woven by men. The fabric is much wider, longer, and thinner than that of a huipil. The corte is a wrap-around skirt that consists of a cut of cloth joined to form a tube into which the woman steps. Excess material is wrapped around the body and folded at the waist in pleats, and tied with a faja (belt). The women purchase the corte fabric by the yard, and then join the sides and decorate the seams to fit their needs.

The fabric woven to create the corte can be varied depending on the style in a particular area or town. Sometimes tie-dyed strands are woven in to the pattern. These are referred to as an Ikat design. In some areas they weave rows of flowers or animal designs through the length of the fabric. Generally corte fabric is fairly thick when compared to commercial fabric, and can last for many years.

The seam where the fabric is joined is called the randa. These are sometimes very decorative with elaborate hand or machine stitching.

Depending on the region, the corte can be short and stops around the knee, almost appearing to be a tailored skirt, and in other regions it can be long and full, with many yards of fabric wrapped around its wearer.

Belts or Fajas

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In order to hold up the skirt or corte, Mayan women wear a faja. These fajas are very long, 6ft – 9ft+, fabric belts that are generally hand woven and can have either hand embroidered or machine embroidered decoration. Sometimes they are narrow and simple in design, and sometimes they are very wide and elaborately decorated with intricate details with tassels on the ends.

In many areas of Guatemala the faja has some of the same weaving decoration that is found in the huipiles of the same area. Though, in some towns, the women prefer the machine embroidery on woven fajas. Much of the machine embroidery is done by men, who use foot-powered, treadle, sewing machines to do their work. Most of their elaborate and stunning designs are made by hand guiding the faja in the machine without any type of formal pattern. The results are spectacular!

Utility Cloth or Tzute

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The tzute is a multipurpose woven cloth that comes in a variety of sizes. Women can be seen using these functional heavy-duty textiles for carrying babies, covering baskets of food, head coverings for church or to avoid the bright sun, or as a simple shawl for when the weather is cooler. They are often carried over the arm until needed.

The tzutes are generally woven on a backstrap loom and are made of one or two panels. There is stitching that joins the two panels, the randa. Sometimes this stitching is very decorative with flourishes done either by hand stitching or machine work, and sometimes this stitching is very simple, solely for function.

Men also will carry tzutes for formal or religious occasions. Theirs are of a slightly different design, and frequently have embellishments such as tassels or ribbons on the corners. Tzutes have many of the geomorphic decorations similar to those seen in the huipiles, and their town can frequently be recognized by their patterns or colors.

Hair Wrap or Cinta

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In modern Guatemala many of the Mayan women are starting to incorporate huipiles from other towns into their daily dress as a matter of personal preference and style. But the hair wrap or cinta is one of the few items that can give a true idea of what town a woman is from. These cintas are generally very long and can measure 8 ft or longer in length. Some are narrow, measuring about 1 inch in width, and some are quite wide with 4 inches or more in width.

The cinta is most always very intricately woven and tells a story in its pattern and design. In some villages, how a woman wraps her hair in the cinta can indicate if she is single, married, has children and/or she is a matriarch. The cinta is the crowning jewel of a woman’s traje or traditional outfit and most often the most stunning piece or her wardrobe.

The women in this photo are dressed in the beautiful traditional traje from Santa Catarina Palopo that features the very brightly colored cinta that unfortunately is starting to fall out of fashion.

Men’s Pants or Pantalones

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Although the custom of men wearing traditional clothing is fading out in many parts of Guatemala, one can still see traditional dress in some areas of the country. Some of the more elaborate pants can be found around the Lake Atitlan area.

Many of the men’s pants are hand woven by the women on a backstrap loom and are designed in a manner very similar to the women’s huipiles. Some of the pants, such as those pictured, are shorter and only come to just below the knee. These are frequently very ornate with embroidered birds or flowers throughout. Other areas have full length pants that are less ornate and are covered by a man’s woolen wrap or rodillera.

Wool Wrap Ponchito or Rodillera

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This heavy woolen wrap or rodillera is generally worn over long pants in the Solola region of Guatemala. It is said to protect the men while they work in the fields and/or keep them warm in areas where the temperatures drop dramatically very early in the mornings or late at night. Some of the elderly men can be seen wearing their rodillera without pants underneath on very hot days. The fabric is a rough and heavy-duty unrefined wool that is stiff and has been felted to create a durable wrap. On occasion these rodilleras have a small decoration that is representative of the local area.

Every textile is unique, as each is made one-at-a-time and most are woven by hand with variations with each stitch. Many of these textiles can be seen and purchased in our store, Ixchel Textiles. We also have an Etsy shop where you can find some of these and other Guatemalan items such as bags, purses, blankets and more. We love the original Guatemalan textiles and are glad to share them with the world!