Dresses of Chiapas, Mexico

Two dresses from Mexico’s border with Guatemala

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Chiapas is Mexico’s southernmost state with a diverse geography that ranges from pine forests to rainforest jungles. It is home to the remnants of Mayan kingdoms and the architectural legacy of Spanish rule.

Chiapas has one of the largest Indigenous populations of Mayans in the country. These Mayan descendants — the K'iche', Kaqchikel, and Iacandones — have the most stable weaving traditions in Mexico. The women in many villages have weavers’ cooperatives where they collect and study old textiles and give classes in the ancient art of natural dyes. Mayan women believe that weaving has a religious significance. When a woman slips her huipil over her head, she is enclosed in a sacred place and becomes the center of her world.

Women in the Tzotzil-speaking village of San Andrés Larráinzar are leaders in the revival of Chiapan brocade. There are over 1,500 symbols they can use in their designs. Favorites are double “XX” that represent “Father Earth and Mother Moon” and a zigzag line that stands for the snake god of fertility. The way the designs are combined tells a story. The vibrant red and black patterns are so closely brocaded, it can take a day to weave one inch.

Chiapa de Corzo, the state’s first Spanish city and capital, gave the state its traditional fiesta gown and hosts the annual Fiesta Grande de Enero (Great January Feast). The month-long festival joins several events that began as celebrations of patron saints. Its central event, the Dance of the Parachicos, blends Chiapas’s Indigenous and Spanish past in celebration of the healing of a Spanish boy by an Indigenous healer.

The state’s vibrant fiesta gown is adorned with ruffles and bands of brightly colored flowers embroidered in wool yarn, silk, or metallic threads. Chiapas’s original fiesta dress had just one ruffle at the neck and another at the skirt’s hemline. A favored story of how the totally ruffled and embroidered version evolved claims it was made for a singer whose song “Las Chiapanecas” popularized the state throughout the Americas. It was soon adopted by the local ladies. Women of all ages promenade in these stunning gowns in a parade at La Fiesta Grande de Enero.

These outfits are part of a larger exhibition, Hilos de Tradicion: Dresses of Mexico, showcasing Mexican ensembles collected by the Brownsville Pan American Round Table beginning in the 1930s.

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Dresses of Chiapas, Mexico Artifact from Brownsville, TX
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