Undressing Peru

History hidden in Textiles

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Project Poncho: Students have to create a poncho for a fashion parade. Kuzco tries to cheat.


When choosing a symbol of Peru, Machu Piccu or Llamas seem like the only options.

Lonely Planet 5
Phew. This is definitely a more overtly symbolic picture of Peru that I can understand .

But intricately woven in the history, identity and way of life is Peruvian traditional dress, so much so it is a national symbol that promotes Peru to the world.

The fine weaving techniques date back to the Paracas people (600BC – 100BC). Products they created were highly prized and respected for their spiritual value in Andean tradition.

A Paracas manta (heavy shawl) dating around 200 BCE. The Paracas are considered to be the finest examples of textiles in the Pre-columbian period and were well preserved due to their use in burial rituals.

Even when the Spanish invaded, they retained traditions by fusing Incan and colonial style, seen in the black pleated skirt, pollera.

Variance in garments, particularly women’s monteras (Quechua for hat), traditionally signify belonging to a specific region or village and in the case of the pollera, can even signify ethnicity.

In colder regions we’d find the (now famous) chullo rather than straw hats. Polleras were decorated with a certain colour belt, flowers or coloured embroidery and Ponchos varied by fibre, colour and length: heavy ponchos in Cajamarca, short and red in Cuzco and costal regions were cotton or vicuña fibre.

Dance also called for specific types of dress. The Mirr danzantes de tijeras or ‘scissors dancers’ featured mirrors and embroidered their deity on their back. I’m sure there’s some really amazing information here.

The resourcefulness of the Peruvians is admirable, locals using shearings from their Alpaca heard as the main fibre and making sandals out of tyres.

Peruvian people are incredibly proud of their ancient textile tradition. Tourism has helped keep it alive – it helps that clothing not only sells as a symbol of Peruvian identity but is a commodity that travellers consume.

This has benefits in that local communities are supported, especially the women who weave the textiles. However the meaning of the symbol can get lost, with travellers expecting to see all Peruvians in traditional dress upon arrival or assuming its exactly what the Inca’s wore.

Make sure you travel with an open mind!