General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Nov 2017/9 Rain
Text Size:

Search the Site (type in white box):

Article suitable for older students

What did the Aztecs wear?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Thando Adrian Chibanda: I’m doing some research for a novel on the Aztecs, and I have a question relating to clothing and attire. What did the Aztecs wear both informally and formally. And what was the difference between - royalty, nobles, and commoners? Thx. (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1 - see below for caption
Pic 1 - see below for caption (Click on image to enlarge)

Not having time just now to prepare a full illustrated guide to Aztec clothing styles we thought a good way to answer this question would be to quote a short section from the book The Aztecs Then and Now by Fernando Horcasitas (Minutiae Mexicana, Mexico City, 1979) which contains a concise summary and spot-on illustrations by the famous Mexican illustrator Alberto Beltrán...

Pic 2: weaving on a traditional backstrap loom - still common in the Mexican countryside today
Pic 2: weaving on a traditional backstrap loom - still common in the Mexican countryside today (Click on image to enlarge)

‘The maguey or century plant furnished the masses of the people with their clothing, because the common man used cotton only on rare occasions, it at all. The fibres were extracted from the maguey leaves, spun into thread on spindles and woven on narrow belt looms, one end attached to a post or tree and the other to the weaver’s waist. In this way narrow strips of cloth were produced, to be cut or sewn together as the case might demand. One must not imagine, however, that this material was of the texture of a burlap [coarse hessian fabric] bag: the pre-Conquest natives were capable of creating thin, soft cloth, comparable to cotton or wool.

Pic 3 - see below for caption
Pic 3 - see below for caption (Click on image to enlarge)

‘The common man dressed in a loincloth passed between his legs and draped around his waist. He also wore a mantle to cover his shoulders, much like today’s sarape. This was tied at the right shoulder. He either went barefoot or wore sandals woven of maguey fibre; the general use of rawhide sandals dates from Colonial times, when the skins of larger animals became plentiful. His hair was shoulder length, and in his ear lobes, pierced at birth, he displayed ear-plugs of shell, wood, green stone or some other material. Hats were not worn.

Pic 4: men’s clothes ranged from the very plain and simple to the truly stunning...
Pic 4: men’s clothes ranged from the very plain and simple to the truly stunning... (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Women wore a cueitl or skirt, consisting of a long strip of cloth wrapped around the waist and held in place by a sash. In the Valley of Mexico they also wore a huipil, a long shift-like blouse. Among the Otomí, Huastecs and other peoples the quechquémitl (see Pic 1) was worn. It is interesting to note that stone sculptures of the Aztec goddesses often show them clad in the quechquémitl, although it was not typical of Tenochtitlan. For the hair-do, two long braids were twined towards the front, rising on the sides of the head somewhat like horns. Aztec women of all classes wore ear-plugs, rings and necklaces of green stone beads and other materials. Head-covering was generally absent.

‘Regarding the ceremonial dress of rulers, military officers and priests, an illustrated book several times the length of the present one might cover the subject satisfactorily. It is sufficient to note here that headdresses made of exquisite gold-green quetzal feathers, feather mantles done in intricate patterns, sandals of jaguar skin adorned with jewels and gold pieces, and a thousand other luxuries covered the persons of the ruling group. Pearls, jadeite, rock crystal, gold, silver, copper, the finest embroidered cotton textiles - all indicated love of display and the importance of identifying one’s position in society.’

Notes on the illustrations:-
PIC 1: ‘On the left, a woman wears the triangular-shaped quechquémitl over her cueitl. The first man is a peasant dressed only in a simple maxtlatl (loincloth). The nobleman to the right wears a headband, a mantle knotted over his left shoulder, maxtlatl and high-backed sandals.’
PIC 3: ‘On the left, a woman in the typical Aztec huipil over a cueitl. To the right, the woman is dressed as in the early post-Conquest period, retaining the Aztec cueitl and adding a European-style blouse.’

Picture sources:-
• Pix 1 & 3, as noted above, by Alberto Beltrán
• Pic 2: photo by Sean Sprague/Mexicolore
• Pic 4: illustration by Irina Botcharova, scanned from Paisajes de la Historia Vol. 1, México Desconocido, CONACULTA, Mexico, 2000

More on the quechquémitl...

Comment button

Here's what others have said: