Red Trunk Project

sample Oaxaca trunk

ethnography: HUIPIL

“What shall I wear today?” is not a question you hear in a Oaxacan indigenous village. Women and girls awaken knowing what they are going to wear because clothing is a big part of their cultural identity. Like being part of a team, the way someone dresses indicates the village, language, perhaps even the marital status of the wearer. With the glorious colors of a woven or embroidered huipil or blusa (blouse) and a wraparound skirt held in place with a woven belt, a woman or a girl is “dressed for success” to enter the day.

It has been this way for a long time throughout Mexico, especially in Oaxaca. We know this because archaeologists, who study the materials remains of ancient peoples, have found pre-Columbian ceramics and illustrations in which women are weaving and wearing decorated dresses. While all are square or rectangular, each village has its distinctive style. In some villages, designs have special meanings but whether those meanings are still known or not, each village has its own set of designs and colors which rarely change. In the most traditional villages, baby girls wear tiny huipiles or blouses and girls wear small versions of adult huipiles.

Most huipiles are woven on a backstrap loom, the pre-Hispanic loom on which plain cloth can be embellished with woven-in brocaded designs. Other decorations are embroidered on either hand-woven or commercial cloth. Huipiles worn in lowland and coastal areas are usually made of light weight cotton whereas huipiles from the highlands, or Sierra villages, are heavier often incorporating wool designs which make the huipil much warmer. In very cold areas, both men and women wrap themselves in blankets for warmth.

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