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Flashback Friday: Gorgeous Garments -- Peru

Updated: Jan 9, 2022

A fun part of travel to countries with very different cultures has been admiring authentic clothing -- the clothing worn by locals as they go about their day or in cultural activities. I love the vivid colours, rich fabrics, and practical or festive functionality. As I slipped on my alpaca Peruvian cardigan this morning, I was inspired to use it as this week's flashback theme. The regular daily wear of many rural Peruvians is very similar to what has been worn in those areas for centuries. Unique styles, colours, fabrics, and especially hats, identify the wearer's home. There are over 50 different indigenous peoples, predominantly Quechuan. Most Peruvians have some indigenous ancestry but the culture has also been strongly influenced by the Spanish colonial conquerors.

There are many traditional Spanish horse shows

It's not unusual to see Andean women from the Aymara tribe wearing bowler-style hats, usually too small for their heads. The story I was told started in the 1920s with the building of the Bolivian railroad. A British company was planning on selling bowler hats to the railway workers but when the shipment arrived, the hats were too small.

In a brilliant marketing move, the cholita hats were then officially marketed as high fashion for women. Unofficially, the persistent rumour that these hats had contraceptive properties also made the style very popular amongst poorer women. The hats were also too small for women but their appeal was so great that women eagerly adopted them. I was told that the angle of the hat also indicates one's relationship status. A side tilt suggests the wearer is available, but when worn on the back of the head it is the cheeky signal that "it's complicated".

Montera is a Quechua word for a traditional hat, which varies in style depending on the region. Some include a sanq'apa, a woven strap decorated with a heavy layer of (predominantly white) beads, that ties the hat under the chin. The number of beads generally reflects the social status of the woman.

Men's hats are relatively understated in comparison. Smaller knit caps with ear flaps are preferred. Often these will have pom-poms attached at the ears. While fun, they are lower profile than their female counterparts. Women will wear the knit caps at higher elevations... those ear flaps are required!

Lliclla or Manta is a Quechua word for a type of cape worn by Quechua women. A lliclla is a square woven cloth that covers the back and shoulders. It is held together at the front using a pin or may be worn tied. When folded and pinned about the shoulders it acts as a small heavy shawl, which keeps the women warm in the chilly Andean air. Larger ones are used to carry children or larger loads. Peruvian women can be seen carrying huge burdens on their backs wrapped in their manta.

The children have their own style. They are also dressed warmly in thick and colourful knitted and woven wool fabrics, mostly handmade. (Warning, total cuteness ahead...)

This is Mani, which means "peanut"

My last photos are of some lovely women I spent time with. Nina, Sartanya, and Kantuta are the mother, daughter and daughter-in-law of a family I stayed with. They live on one of the floating Uros islands, near Puno. A tradition is to trade songs when you visit. They sang for me and I shared "Land of the Silver Birch".

Notice their incredible wide skirts called Polleras, traditionally made from handwoven wool (but now often machine-made and purchased). Women usually wear several of these on top of one another, and on special occasions, women may wear up to 10 or more of them at a time!

The family home, Lake Titicaca, Puno

I took a trip to Isla de Taquile (Intika). It is recognized as a center for Textile Art. This lady and I chatted for about 15 minutes with the assistance of her teenage granddaughter. She told me how she worried that the traditional arts were being lost as the young people moved off island. The women are weavers and the men are knitters. Her son knit her bright pink woollen dress. Her granddaughter was planning on moving as soon as she could.

I bought several sweaters made of alpaca wool and am currently wearing my favourite. I also brought back an awful lot of yarn that became socks, gloves and toques*. I'm not quite ready for the vibrant colours of Peru, but it still includes more colours and designs than I usually have in a single garment! I love that putting on one of these sweaters brings back so many vivid memories of my trip.

The colours are inspired by the incredible land. The bright dyes are created from natural plants and minerals. The bright colours are especially valued for making the wearer more visible, important in mountainous winter, monochromatic deserts or foggy coastal conditions. The fabrics are made mainly of alpaca wool, with "baby alpaca" being highly valued. The wool is spun into various thicknesses from thin threads to dense ropey yarns, used for making many different garments. Reasonably-priced, machine-made, alpaca blend clothes can be purchased everywhere. To get authentic, hand-made, baby alpaca pure wool garments, you'll have to spend a lot and buy from a craft collective.

I'm often struck by how bland the colours of our local wardrobe are compared to many other places. I have bought lovely clothes from more "colourful" nations, only to be amazed at how much more vibrant they seem back in the Vancouver drizzle. I often associate bright colours with warmer climates, but that's clearly not true and way too simplistic. It's really about those local natural plant and mineral dyes. The traditional texture crafts in this area create and use the more muted colours produced by this land.

What are the traditional colours of your region? What kind of garments do you buy when you travel? Do you have a favourite purchase?

My latest travel research journal is filling up as I get deep into planning my trip to visit some US National Parks. I've realized I have several trips worth of things I want to do and see, so I'm going to decide where the first destination will be... either Utah or Arizona. Let me know what you think, or if you've got some recommendations for me. We're growing steadily, and your sharing has been really helpful in growing my reach. Share the link, hit like, comment below, let me know you're out there!

Have a great weekend, next post Monday!

*a toque/tuque: a knitted hat/beanie for you non-Canadians, eh.


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