It’s now been months since we were in Guatemala, but as you can tell by my posts, I continue to be fascinated by the culture. By no means am I an expert on the “traje”; that is the traditional clothing worn by Mayan women and girls in Guatemala however I’d like to share the little bit that I know. As a fabric lover, it is captivating to see the variety of beautiful fabrics and the proud manner in which women wear their traje.
In a previous post I wrote that women of Guatemala literally wear their culture on their backs. Unlike other countries where traditional clothing is a cultural marker and where the clothing is worn only for special occasions, in Guatemala there are large numbers of women or girls who wear traditional clothing for daily life. Of course there are also women who also wear the traje only on special occasions. From what I could see, the clothing for special occasions does not differ in style from what was worn for daily use.
Even after seeing several photos of women in traditional clothing, you may notice the different skirt and top styles. Each community has a style which is unique to that area. For example, in the north (specifically Coban), women wear gathered skirts and lacy tops such as the preceding photo. On the other hand, in a cooler area such as Santiago Atitlan, the blouses are made of fairly heavy cotton which is then embroidered with birds such as the following photo.
In Antigua and the Lake Atitlan area, skirts are made from a large panel of fabric tied at the waist with a wide hand embroidered belt. The fabric is made by women in their homes – densely woven Guatemalan cotton in a variety of plaid designs, which also vary by region. Like backstrap weaving, fabric weaving is one of the ways in which women stay connected to their culture.
In the following photo, I love the hair ribbons woven into the braid. In Quetzaltenango the skirts are full and have an embroidered band at the knee. You can also see the hand-woven shawl resting on the woman’s shoulder.
Not surprisingly in this craft-based economy, many of the garments are hand-sewed and embroidered by family members. I’m not sure about the cost of blouse fabric but we were told that a skirt-length panel of woven fabric costs $40-$80, incredibly expensive in a very poor country.
What about men?
Unlike Mayan women, it is uncommon to see men wearing their traditional garments. I was able to capture one example in San Pedro – wool pants with embroidery. Like with the garments worn by females, the designs vary by community.