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The Huipil, tunic of Mesoamerica

A Huipil (pronounced wee-peel) is the traditional garment worn by the indigenous women of Mexico and Central America. It is a loose-fitting tunic, made from rectangular pieces of fabric joined together, with an opening for the head, and often with open sides. Huipiles are usually woven of cotton on a backstrap loom, heavily decorated with designs woven into the fabric, then further ornamented with embroidery, ribbons, lace and even feathers.  Decorative elements are often arranged in striped bands. The style of the huipil indicates the woman’s ethnicity and community and the decorative elements can signify history, cultural identity, or something personal about the wearer.

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A Guatemalan woman in a huipil embroidering a belt.

Each village has a distinctive style, and the huipiles of Chiapas, Mexico, the location of our Fall photo shoot, are rich in symbolism with images of gods, flowers, frogs and other mythological influences. Other Chiapan huipiles are made of white cotton ornamented in feathers, sewn with colorful thread. These feathered huipiles are used for weddings, believed that they ensure a good marriage.

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Huipiles in the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City. photo: Thelmadatter

The making of traditional huipiles is an important cultural and economic activity, especially where most women wear traditional clothing. Young women learn techniques and designs from their mothers and grandmothers. The weaving is an important source of income in many agricultural communities. While they design and weave household items such as tablecloths and other items of clothing, the most popular and most valued remains the huipil.

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Floral and stripe huipil from Patzún, Guatemala.

It is a ritual act when a woman puts on her huipil, especially a ceremonial one. She becomes the center of a symbolic world as her head passes through the neck opening. With her arms, she forms a cross and is surrounded by myth as between heaven and the underworld.

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Maya woman in Chichicastenango, Guatemala on All Saint's Day.

Ceremonial huipiles are the most elaborate and are reserved for special occasions, burials, for women of high rank, and even to dress the statues of saints. In a number of indigenous communities, an extravagant huipil is made for a woman’s wedding, then carefully stored to be used for her funeral.

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An overdyed ceremonial huipil from Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Several of our Fall items were inspired by huipiles:

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Lucia Pinafore, Huipil Studio Tunic, Salinas Tunic-Dress

Ethnographic Inspiration, PC Designs, Travel | , , , , , , , , , | Permalink | ShareThis

3 Responses to The Huipil, tunic of Mesoamerica

  1. floridahippychic@gmail.com' Lisa Haynes says:

    Thank you for this post. Anyone interested in textiles and design needs to visit Guatemala! It’s a dramatically beautiful country, rich in history and archaeology, excellent food and welcoming people.

  2. bjm_is@excite.com' Barbara Jo Metcalfe says:

    Where did the red suede and black flats come from in you most recent catalog?

    THANK YOU!

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