Guatemala is home to the descendants of one of the best-known ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya. The ancient Maya are known for their well-developed calendar, hieroglyphic writing system, and complex art and architecture. The present-day Mayan people live in rural settings in the highlands and lowlands of Guatemala, and are known for the richness and variety of their textiles and garments. They are divided into fourteen different language/cultural groups, from the Cakchiquel and Tzutujil Maya along the Pacific Ocean to the Ixil Maya in central Guatemala. Dress has remained largely traditional, especially for Mayan women, and serves as a form of personal expression and ethnic identity.
The most distinctive garment worn by Mayan women is the huipil, a blouse usually made of two panels of cotton fabric woven on a backstrap loom and joined along the side selvedges with the seams worn vertically. They have no separate sleeve sections and may or may not be sewn up the sides. Huipils are among the most highly decorated of Mayan weavings, and often feature complex brocaded patterns. Women may own many huipils, some for everyday work and some for special occasions; they may be worn as single garments or as over-garments. Skirts are worn with the huipils and are usually made of treadle-loomed fabric. They may be of one piece of wrapped fabric, several pieces sewn together into a tube, or a piece of fabric gathered at the waist. Decorative belts and sashes are often worn wrapped around the waist. Headdresses, hair cords and headbands are also worn in various styles depending on village customs.
Mayan men’s basic costume consists of pants, shirt, and sash. The shirts and pants are European in style and are machine stitched. Shirts are often personalized by the addition of decorative, hand-woven collars. Pants are usually of knee or calf length, with wide, straight legs, and an unfitted waist. They are often embroidered with animal or human motifs or with geometric designs. Outer garments may be either a traditional wool tunic or a European-style jacket of hard, thick wool and decorated with pockets, braids, and buttons. Wool blankets are a part of men’s wardrobe that is used for a variety of purposes; they may be worn as kilts or coverings, or used as kneeling mats or pads. Shoulder bags are carried exclusively by men and are either tightly woven rectangular bags or open mesh bags.
Tzutes are all-purpose utility cloths used by both men and women. They may be used as head wraps, blankets, shawls, scarves, baby slings, or as a simple decoration over other garments.
This online exhibit presents examples of Guatemalan costumes from the Museum’s ethnographic collections. Dating primarily to the mid 20th century, these items are representative of a number of different Mayan villages and cultural groups.
References and Related Links
Conte, C. 1984. Maya Culture and Costume: A Catalogue of the Taylor Museum's E.B. Ricketson Collection of Guatemalan Textiles. Colorado Springs: Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
Dieterich, M., J. Erickson, and E. Younger. 1979. Guatemalan Costumes: The Heard Museum Collection. Phoenix: The Heard Museum.
Foxx, J. and M. Schevill. 1997. The Maya Textile Tradition. New York: Abrams.
Rowe, A. 1981. A Century of Change in Guatemalan Textiles. New York: Center for Inter-American Relations.
Schevill, M. 1993. Maya Textiles of Guatemala. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Wood, J. and L. Osborne. 1966. Indian Costumes of Guatemala. Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck.
The Fabric of Mayan Life: An Exhibit of Textiles (Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History)
MARI Textiles (Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University)
Text prepared by Audrey Gayou and Mary French, winter 2006.
Photos by Tara Hein, Audrey Gayou, and Chelsea Bilyeu.
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