Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Clothing of the Ancient Maya

There is not a lot known about how the Maya dressed like in ancient times, and what is known mostly is information on people understood to have been elites. This is because of the environment in which the ancient Maya lived -- like the codices, the clothing has rotted away. Instead archaeologists try to interpret the fashion sense of the ancient Maya via art mediums such as  ceramic ware, carvings, ceramic figurines and murals as well as the 1500s records by Spanish colonists.

General Concept
As it is currently understood, the ancient Maya had different ideas about clothes than people do today. For one thing, they never made clothes so they fit close to the body of their own accord. Clothes tended to be held in place by being knotted or were held in place by belts made of cloth. And for another, they could be quite different from Western standards of modesty.

Materials
Despite the decay problem, by using chemical analysis it has been discovered that the ancient Maya used bark cloth, hemp fiber and cotton as materials for their clothing. It is possible that bark cloth was a material for ritual clothing.

Beyond the materials themselves, the ancient Maya would dye their clothing, via plant and animal sourced dyes. Examples of colors available to the ancient Maya dyers include green, purple, black, blue and various sources of red.


Head Wear for Women
Women tended to wear either a complicated hairstyle that involved intertwining the hair with cloth, or -- like men -- wore turban-like headdresses. However, women's head wear fashions seem to have been less diverse than men's head wear fashions.

Head Wear for Men
Men's also wore different fashions of turban-like headdresses. However, they also seem to have worn other kinds of headdresses, that were commonly complicated structures made using various materials including such things as feathers, gems, animal hides.


Clothing for Men
Menswear included a kind of breech-clout that was, according to The Ancient Maya, ..."five fingers wide" -- though Your Travel Guide to Ancient Mayan Civilization says was between eight and ten feet long and ten inches wide. This breech-clout was wrapped around the waist repeatedly before being passed between the legs. For the upper classes, they were commonly decorated with featherwork on the ends. Lower class men wore undecorated loincloths.

Seemingly not as common as the breech-clout, some depictions of men show them also wearing a pati. A pati is a big, square-shaped piece of cloth that is -- like the breech-clout -- decorated in relation to the class of the wearer. The pati was tied around the wearer's shoulders. Not just for day-wear -- except for very fancy ones -- it was also used to sleep in.

Clothing for Women
Women would wear a skirt and/or a sleeveless, poncho-like tunic (commonly known today as the huipil) or a dress. Maya skirts were either tied with belt or was knotted in place with the huipil worn over the skirt. Elite women's skirts, as with other clothing, were more decorated than skirts of the lower classes -- they would have decorative fringes and knots.

Not everyone wore the huipil with their skirt, when they did wear more than a skirt. According to bishop Diego de Landa, women in Campeche, Balacar and along the coast wore a skirt as well as a folded piece of cloth tied around their torsos. He called the folded cloth a manta -- but The Ancient Maya: Fifth Edition calls a pati.

As to dresses, there seem to be different kinds of dresses worn by ancient Maya women. One kind of Maya dress is described in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing as a full length version of the tunic that was sewn up the sides. A second kind of dress seems to have been made of a large piece of cloth wrapped around the body.

Footwear
The ancient Maya wore sandals. Ancient Maya sandal straps had two thongs. One thong went in the space between the first and second toe while the second went between the third and fourth toe.

As with other aspects of ancient Maya society, it seems that elaboration and material usage depended on where a person ranked in society. Men who were not upper class wore deer-hide sandals that were untanned, with hemp cord for straps. For elites however, it seems they had much more complicated sandals.

Decorations for sandals also existed. Depictions of sandals exist with such embellishments as pompoms, or jaguar skin.

References:
 "The Ancient Maya"; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

"Handbook To Life In The Ancient Maya World"; Lynn V. Foster; 2005

"Ancient Maya Commoners"; Jon C. Lohse, Fred Valdez, Jr; 2004

"Your Travel Guide to Ancient Mayan Civilization"; Nancy Daya; 2001

"The Ancient Maya: Fifth Edition"; Sylvanus Griswold Morley, Robert J. Sharer; 1994

"The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing Through World History: 1501-1800", Volume 2"; Greenwood Publishing Group; 2008

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