SERIES Fashion Origins – The Poncho as the symbol of the women’s liberation movement (1/4)

As Hispanic Heritage Month draws to an end, I couldn’t help but think that I absolutely needed to talk about Hispanic culture from a fashion perspective. After all, clothing is part of culture too… right? So I thought ‘poncho’ as being the ultimate symbol of this rich colourful culture… And you think: Mexican, right?

Wrong! Oops! 😏

People often associate ponchos with Mexico, but ponchos are believed to have originated from a people that lived in the Andes: the Mapuche civilization. Because of the high elevations, cold weather and general conditions, the Mapuche wore ponchos as all-purpose outerwear. These artisans were the ones who really popularized the poncho. 

Skilled weavers 💪, for these indigenous people the poncho was much more than just a simple item of clothing offering protection from the cold. In the Mapuche culture, ponchos, also known as mantas, are exclusively male garments (😑 no comment) and the figures and colours of the design often held a significant meaning. For example, a poncho’s step-diamond pattern, denoted authority and were often worn by male tribal leaders. 

As with many great ideas, the fabrication and use of ponchos will spread and be adapted by various cultures. So that’s why the Mexican ponchos are some of the most well known in the world, a fashion symbol of tradition in addition to being a practical piece of clothing. Whereas, in the US, ponchos are known as rain gear. They were systematically issued to soldiers from the American Civil War to World War II, proof of their versatility. 

In the 1970s the poncho became a fashionable garment for women’s wear. These were usually knitted and suggestive of an ethnic influence, corresponding to the hippie era. The tradition of “male only” poncho wearing, most likely led to a revolt in fashion💥: encouraging women to wear ponchos as a source of pride in their liberation. The poncho continues to make an appearance as a garment of fashionable womenswear.

And that is how the Poncho, practical, versatile and stylish,  has crossed all borders far and wide and has survived generations and will continue to do so. So next time you throw on your poncho, don’t forget the ingenious South American civilizations that weaved it into existence!

You see now? Even fashion connects us! 😉

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