Just like any other developed country, modern Mexican dress has similarities to popular styles and garments worn around the world today. However, the deep cultural roots in Mexico uncover unique traditional outfits found nowhere else.
Traditional Mexican clothing combines native and European elements. The fibers of choice across the country are cotton, bark and agave (which were known and used by native Mexican pre-Hispanic civilizations to make their clothes), as well as wool and silk (introduced by the Spanish later).
In the past, Mexican clothing was dyed with natural components found in local plants, but as soon as aniline dyes were brought from Europe they became the first dying choice.
Aztec clothing of ancient times was often loose fitting and colorful. The array of colors was due in part to the extensive trading network. While in their teens, Aztec women were taught to weave by hand, and primarily used cotton or ayate fiber.
These ornate tunics are traditional garments that date back to the indigenous women of central Mexico and Central America. It is not uncommon to find a Huipil adorned with ribbons, lace, and other intricate designs.
A form of military armor, this Mesoamerican garment was comprised of multiple layers of thick braided cotton, usually made stronger with brine. An effective Ichcahuipilli would slow and stop arrows.
The Rebozo is the modern take on the Tilmàtli, an ancient Aztec cloak. Much more reserved than its ancient counterpart, the Rebozo, unlike the Tilmàtli, it is to be worn over clothing rather than on its own. What makes this item so unique is that it functions as a number of different garments. Simply by tying, folding, or orienting it in a different way, a Rebozo can act as a shawl, blouse, shroud, or a cape if desired.
Another iconic piece of clothing with origins in Central and South America is the Poncho. Use of the Poncho dates as far back as 500 B.C., before Spanish colonization. Initially designed out of materials such as wool or fleece, Ponchos were intended to keep the wearer warm and dry even in the wettest of climates. Their exceptional effectiveness at this task led to a cheap plastic adaptation as they have quickly become a must in wetter climates.
Although most Ponchos today are practical in function, more expensive manufacturers have gone the route of creating fashionable statements through elaborate and unique designs.
In the gray area between shawl, blanket, and poncho you’ll find the Serape. Originally worn by farmers and shepherds in highland regions of the country, the Serape was woven with bleak browns and grays from wool or fleece. However, with a growing market of tourists in recent years, Serapes come in a variety of brightly colored materials.
Many of the designs marketed towards tourists not only have multiple colors but also designs resembling those of Mayan cultures, likely because most of the Serapes sold are hand-woven by local Mayan families.
Made popular by the Californian hippie/surf subculture, the Baja Jacket represents a banner to fly under for surfers everywhere.
Even though the Baja Jacket was made popular in the United States, its roots trace back to Mexican clothing where they were initially hand woven in the early 20th century and earlier. Similar in style to Serapes, Baja Jackets come in striped and intricate patterns. They include softer reds, greens, and grays, made from wool, cotton, or polyester.
Due to their popularity, Baja Jackets are likely one of the most cost effective pieces of Mexican clothing for purchase. It would be challenging to turn down a jacket of the handmade surf variety, priced as low as $20 USD.
Most common in the late 1850s, the China Poblana was a combination of a skirt, shawl and blouse meant to flatter a woman’s feminine features. The China Poblana gets its name from Puebla, a country in Mexico, where the style of Mexican clothing emerged. However, the inclusion of “China” in the term is still disputed.
The name of the dress is not the only thing about it to draw controversy. During its introduction, many women in the upper class were scandalously labeled because the Poblana was considered too provocative for traditional clothing at the time.
A sandal that found its genesis and grew in the early tribal groups of Mexico, even before the colonization of Europeans, is the Huarache. Initially a simple leather-woven sandal, it could be found throughout Southern Mexico, but then gave way to more protective footwear.
The traditional Mexican sandal found a resurgence in the early 20th century, when it was made popular and frequently crafted in poor communities from rubber tires and cloth. In modern times, Huarache sandals are still handmade in parts of Mexico, but come at high prices reaching upwards of $100 USD due to the expensive leathers required. Some companies have brought the Huarache style into mainstream settings adapted for the average consumer, and as a result, it has been widely adopted.
Mexican Pointy Boots
Despite their gimmicky title, Mexican Pointy Boots, also known as “Tribal Boots”, are a popular addition to the traditional and party wardrobes of many Mexican men. Most of these boots find a home amongst comedy sketches and nightclubs; Pointy Boots aren’t all that common at the workplace. With good reason too, these boots can reach upwards of three feet in length.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are Charros, the Tribal Boots’ reserved cousin. Charro Boots are a more traditional style of boots, and resemble stereotypical cowboy boots, but are usually less ornate and around half as tall.
Charro-style shoes can trace their origins to members of the Mexican upper-class who pioneered the low-cut boots. In modern times, however, Charros aren’t exclusive to Mexican nobility; rather they are seen most often in rodeos and horseback tournaments, worn with colorful clothing.
Perhaps one of the best known pieces of traditional Mexican clothing is the Sombrero. It is a tall and wide-brimmed hat designed to shade one from the harmful rays of the sun. Traditionally reserved for cowboys (vaqueros) and mariachis, Sombreros are now worn by many and have influenced a variety of hats, from baseball caps to beanies.