Yucatan: An Unexpected Textile Mecca
Many people are undoubtedly familiar with the richness of Mexico’s culture through its delectable foods, vast archaeological sites, and unique celebrations, like Day of the Dead. Alright, that last one may seem a bit more morbid than “rich” for foreigners unfamiliar with the holiday, but still, there’s so much depth to Mexico and its people that is finally receiving the international recognition it deserves. One under-the-radar aspect of Mexico’s culture, specifically in the Yucatan, is its fashion. If you were to ask someone to dress up in traditional Mexican clothing, don’t be surprised if they first conjure up images of a poncho and sombrero. Some of you readers are probably thinking, “Yikes, I really don’t know what ‘traditional’ clothing looks like in Mexico aside from what Hollywood showed me!” That may or may not be true. Many world-renowned designers have actually drawn inspiration from traditional textiles in Mexico, including the Yucatan!
Much of the clothing in the Yucatan is marked by vivid, elaborate embroideries set against a cool, white backdrop. Most of the fabrics used in the Yucatan are natural fibers, like cotton and linen, since they stay cooler in the high summer temperatures. The women of the region traditionally wear what’s called a huipil (also spelled hipil). This tent dress is typically white and has cross-stitched patterns (usually of flowers) along the top of the dress and the hem. Women in families across the Yucatan make these huipiles and cross-stitch them by hand. The talent and let’s be honest – the incredible patience it takes!— was recognized just last year by UNESCO1. The huipil is just one of the many articles of clothing still made in traditional ways in the region: Things like hammocks and hats are still handmade throughout the Yucatan.
Now, bright colors may not be your thing (it certainly isn’t mine when it comes to clothing), but that doesn’t matter. If you wander around the beautiful and safe streets of Merida, you’ll come across numerous stores that sell toned-down versions of traditional clothing; they may lack some color, but they certainly do not lack in quality and tonal-colored details. If you are particularly adventurous and willing to navigate the roads, you could always venture out into the Yucatan and find some of the villages2 where textiles are produced. Admire the artistry and support the local people. The number one attraction in Valladolid on Tripadvisor is a museum3 of traditional clothing. So next time you come to the Yucatan, take in this other rich and under-appreciated aspect of Mexico’s culture, and unlike the food or archaeological sites, these are things you can actually take back with you to enjoy! Maybe you’ll even get a chance to give someone else a new perspective and understanding on what traditional Mexican clothes look like (Bye ponchos and sombreros!).
Author: Athena Jackson
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