General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Sep 2017/9 Jaguar
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An Aztec (Mexica) boy and girl, from the Codex Mendoza

What did Aztec children wear?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Cara Nichols: I am learning all about Aztecs at school and my question is what sort of clothes did Aztec children wear? Thank you. (Answered/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Aztec parents teaching their children at different ages, Codex Mendoza folio 58r
Pic 1: Aztec parents teaching their children at different ages, Codex Mendoza folio 58r (Click on image to enlarge)

There’s a great source of information to answer this question: it’s the Codex Mendoza, painted by Aztec scribes just after the Spanish Conquest (it has Spanish commentaries written on it), which now lives in the Bodleian LIbrary in Oxford. Its drawings of Aztec/Mexica children at different ages tell us much about their clothing - and about how little these changed as kids grew up! This codex page (see pic 1) shows Aztec (Mexica) children being trained by their parents, from the ages of three to six. Before the age of three, it’s pretty safe to assume that children ran around naked (or at least the boys!). The father teaches his son on the left side of the page, the mother her daughter on the right. You can tell the children are getting older (as you go down the page) thanks to the blue dots representing their ages. it’s interesting to see at the same time the increasing rations given to children according to their age - shown by the tortillas or maize pancakes (these weren’t eaten on their own, BTW, but always with other foods such as beans, chiles and squash).

Pic 2: An Aztec mother trains her daughter - illustration by Alberto Beltrán
Pic 2: An Aztec mother trains her daughter - illustration by Alberto Beltrán (Click on image to enlarge)

Already by the age of three the children’s clothing looks like their mum and dad’s. At this point we let Frances Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt - who wrote a splendid commentary on the Codex Mendoza - take over the story:-
The little boy wears a cape, tied on the same shoulder as his father, but he does not wear a loincloth; the little girl has a ‘huipilli’ [blouse] identical to her mother’s, but wears no skirt. Both the boy and the girl have cropped hair, believed by the Aztecs to be necessary for young children’s health.

Pic 3: Boys at an Aztec school; detail from a mural by Fanny Rabel, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Pic 3: Boys at an Aztec school; detail from a mural by Fanny Rabel, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

By the age of four -
although the son is still without a loincloth, the daughter now modestly wears a short skirt in addition to her unbordered ‘huipilli’. Both children are being trained to contribute to the daily work of the household...

At five -
the daughter, now wearing a longer, unhemmed skirt, is receiving instruction on the use of the spindle: she crouches down to ground level, where so much of an [Aztec] woman’s work takes place...
Meanwhile, two boys, each clad only in a cape, are sent outside the family home to bring back light loads of needed materials... Here the boys are using their capes to carry the burdens...

Pic 4: Aztec boy wearing a plain loin-cloth; illustration by Alberto Beltrán
Pic 4: Aztec boy wearing a plain loin-cloth; illustration by Alberto Beltrán (Click on image to enlarge)

At six the children have even more jobs to do, reflecting their future way of life -
The daughter, who has now assumed the same posture and ‘huipilli’ as her mother, is beginning to practice the art of spinning... The boys, however, are already being sent out into the busy marketplace to glean whatever the buyers and sellers may have unwittingly dropped or left behind...

Although some writers suggest sooner, most sources indicate that boys only started to wear a loincloth from the age of 13, entering into adolescence. A short cape tied at the shoulder, however, was definitely the most common piece of clothing for a young Aztec boy.

Girls, on the other hand, wore the usual blouse (huipilli) from a very young age; soon they would add a skirt - though it started short, it quickly dropped down to the ankles as the years sped by.

Learn more about Aztec (Mexica) clothing by looking at our other articles (links below...)

Pic 5: Aztec girls wearing blouses; detail from a mural by Regina Raúll (1964), National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Pic 5: Aztec girls wearing blouses; detail from a mural by Regina Raúll (1964), National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

Quotes from:-
The Essential Codex Mendoza by Frances F. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt, University of California Press, 1997.

Picture sources:-
• Images from the Codex Mendoza (original in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) scanned from our own copy of the James Cooper Clark 1938 (London) facsimile edition
• Pic 2: from Jade precioso pluma de Quetzal by Doris Heyden and Mariana Yampolsky with illustrations by Alberto Beltrán -
http://bibliotecadigital.ilce.edu.mx/sites/colibri/cuentos/mayas/htm/sec_3.htm
• Pic 3: Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Pic 4: Illustration by Alberto Beltrán scanned from The Sun Kingdom of the Aztecs by Victor W. von Hagen (1960)
• Pic 5: photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

Read more on Aztec clothing generally

Mexica clothing styles

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