When I think of Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas I generally think of ziggurats, spicy hot chocolate, and rough hewn hammered jewelery, jungle and gold. Typical generalizations. The images in this post are outfits inspired by these cultures.
The period we will be looking is from about 300 CE to 1500 CE. A lot of achievements and unique characteristics of these cultures, were lost with Western invasion and many artifacts were not preserved in the hot and wet climate near the equator.
Their clothing was loose fitting, with holes left for the head while weaving the fabric. Similar to other cultures, the fabric used for the clothing indicated social status and division. Aztec law forbade poor people from wearing cotton. Among the Incas only the wealthy could wear cumbi, a soft cloth made of baby alpaca wool. The poorest members of society wore very simple plain clothing, while the more wealthy would wear colourful clothing, with intricate patterns and embellishments. Men wore loincloths, women wore tunics and dresses, or skirts with or without a scarf top.
Today we still value some fabrics more, like linen, silk, and cashmere, above the likes of polyester, but much is based on personal preference and knowledge of fabrics, since price points for all these fabrics can vary widely along with quality.
Cloaks were worn by all, again simple unadorned cloaks were worn by the poorer people, while the wealthy wore cloaks with intricate designs, or made of jaguar skins, and adorned. The cloaks of poorer people reached no further than the knee, while the more wealthy wore cotton cloaks that swept the ground. Cloaks were of such status that sometimes people wore more than one to demonstrate their wealth. Inca cloaks were tied over the left shoulder and secured if with pins in front of their chests. On a happy note, once a year the Aztec emperor would give out cloaks taken from conquered people to the poor.
Most people went barefoot, but some wore sandals. Some Inca’s wore, a sandal that left the toes exposed to grip the ground and mountainous terrain. These sandals were made of untanned skins and attached with ties of wool secured around the ankle.
Hair was intricately styled, and could also demonstrate social rank. Mayan women gathered their long hair on top of their heads in ponytails, decorating them with ribbons and ornaments for special occasions. Mayan men wore their hair long but burn the hair on their foreheads to accentuate their long faces. Mayan slaves had their hair cut short.
Aztec men wore shoulder length hair with bangs, and plucked their facial hair, while the women wore their hair loose and braided it with ribbons and ornaments for special occasions. Warriors wore ponytails with some locks singled out and in a decorated braid or ponytail, while their female companions wore short hair, to the nose, died with black mud and shined with indigo dye.
Inca men and women wore their hair long, and hair cutting was used as punishment for some crimes. Women wore their hair loose and parted in the middle, sometimes wearing two braids, sometimes wearing colourful headbands. Wealthy women covered their head with cumbi cloth. Men wore their hair long with bangs.
Mayans did not have metalworking skills and created jewelry from materials like bone, stones and shells. The Inca and Aztecs created jewelry with gold and silver, along with feathers, shells and stones.
“Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas.” Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. Ed. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. Vol. 2: Early Cultures Across the Globe. Detroit: UXL, 2004. 389-406. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 27 May 2011.