Ancient Aztec clothing
Ancient Aztec clothing, that is, the clothing worn by the tribes that made up the Aztec empire (such as the Mexica people), was rich in variety. As we shall see, it varied according to the social class that people belonged to.
Ancient Aztec clothing was generally loose fitting and did not completely cover the body. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, the people were surprised to see them in their full armour, with only their faces exposed.
Aztec clothes were generally made of cotton (which was imported) or ayate fiber, made from the Maguey Cactus (also called the Century Plant or American Aloe). Women would weave the fibers into clothing, a task girls were taught as young teenagers. Because of their vast trading network, the Aztecs were able to make use of a beautiful array of dyes, creating the brilliant colours still seen in Mexico today.
The Common people
A simple loincloth and tilma
The Ancient Aztec clothing of the common people and slaves sometimes covered very little of their bodies. Maguey clothing, rather than the cotton, was the rule. Slaves would only wear a simple loincloth. The loincloth, also worn by common people, was made from a long strip of cloth tied in front. If the man had a little higher social standing, it might be embroidered or have fringes on the two ends. The men would also wear a cloak made from a triangular cloth known as a tilmatli
. It could be used like an apron to carry things, or worn as a cloak.
Perhaps the world's most famous tilma is the one worn by Juan Diego
, now on display at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The women would wear skirts, and a sleeve less blouse or short sleeved shirt. Again, this would be very simple, with some decoration as the social class became more prestigious. (read more about the clothes of the commoner
The upper class
Of course the noble class and religious leaders would wear clothing that was much more adorned, though still tilmas and loincloths and skirts would be worn. There would be symbols of their particular affiliation on the clothing or in a head dress. The more prestigious clothing became brightly coloured. Gold was often used in clothing, and pendants, feathers, furs, and other forms of decoration were used. Jewelry such as necklaces, earrings and bracelets were also worn by the upper classes. Like tribes still in mesoamerica today, some wore "ear spools". Of course, for certain rituals costumes were worn which became even more elaborate. Aztec masks were used for rituals, representing various Aztec gods.
Merchants were in a class all their own, and had a certain amount of independence that most people didn't enjoy. They often were allowed to wear more elaborate clothing.
The military had their own costumes, based on what military group they belonged to - the eagle or the jaguar, for example. Even for the Aztec warrior, there was a hierarchy that was reflected by how adorned their costumes were. Those who were war heroes were allowed more jewels and more stunning clothing.
The ancient Aztec clothing of the warrior offered some protection, and their head dresses also served as helmets. Some of the chiefs even wore a layer of gold. Warriors carried a simple decorated shield. They used bows, spears, and the maquahuitl - a combination sword and club.
For more, see these Aztec warrior drawings.
Ancient Aztec clothing was a huge part of the economy. You could buy a slave if you had enough material. People brought thousands of clothing items as tribute to the powerful empire. Clothing both united people and separated them - much like it still does today. To see some fantastic pictures of ancient Aztec clothing, visit Missouri State University history department.