Culture

Vibrant Quechua fashion mixes ancient craftsmanship & European influences

A photograph of the author, Molly Mitchell.

By Molly Mitchell

August 12, 2019

Vibrant Quechua fashion mixes ancient craftsmanship & European influences
María Micaela Castro Sisa poses wearing a traditional Quechua outfit including a blue poncho, multicolored wide belt and black skirt.
María Micaela Castro Sisa poses wearing a traditional Quechua outfit including a blue poncho, multicolored wide belt called a chumpi and a black skirt called a pollera.

From jaunty bowler hats to gorgeous shawls and iconic ponchos, the fashion of the Quechua communities in the Andes Mountains is striking and rich with history.

The clothes of these indigenous South Americans is a mix of their pre-Incan roots, colonial Spanish influences and a dash of 20th-century flair. The beautiful textiles they wear are integral to daily life, showcasing their craftsmanship from head to toe with bright colors and patterns that are distinctive to the regions they’re from – primarily in the highland areas of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

María Micaela Castro Sisa is an alpaca farmer who lives in Ecuador’s windswept Andean páramo, a treeless plateau between the tree line and the snowy peaks. Each piece of her colorful outfit represents her community’s heritage.

This is the color of the sky, this is the color of our blood and this white is the color of our snowcapped Chimborazo. Here we have this belt has the sun, blood, nature, and black is the Earth – this skirt is for our earth. María Micaela Castro Sisa, Alpaca Farmer

Many of these traditional pieces are still crafted and worn with pride today.

José Pedro Pablo Cuzco combines a western hoodie with a traditional poncho. Red represents his particular community.

Ponchos

Perhaps the most recognizable garment, the poncho, has been worn since long before Spanish colonialism. Since they’re essentially woven blankets designed to be worn, they’re perfect for keeping out the cold and damp of highland living. Some ponchos are made with signature colors or patterns that represent specific regions.

María Rosa Iza Cuchiparte and many other Quechua women mix vibrant color and texture combinations with their sweaters and shawls.

Shawls

Quechua shawls truly show off their exquisite fiber craftmanship. Whether they’re knitted, crocheted or woven, these practical wraps are another way to stay warm in style.

A member of the Tombohaushca, Ecuador community spins alpaca fiber in the drizzle.. Her colorful faja peeks out from underneath her poncho.

Fajas

A faja is a wide, colorful woven belt worn by both men and women. Also called chumpi, they look like festive cumberbunds used to hold up skirts, support the lower back while carrying heavy loads, secure swaddled babies and carry tools for spinning yarn.

Ashley Ximena (4), Ariel Jesús (10), Margarita Elizabeth (14), and Enma Tatiana (12) pose for with one of their sheep. Ashley and Margarita are sporting chic hats with their school uniforms.

Bowler hats

Fetching bowler hats are very popular in Ecuadorian Quechua communities. They’ve become part of the signature look since British railway workers brought them to the region in the ‘20s.

María Rosa Iza Cuchiparte wears her warm pollera even while working in the garden.

Polleras

Women wear these big pleated skirts with embroidered trims year-round, often layering two or more depending on the weather. They’re typically black, aside from the colorful, patterned trim, which is unique to certain communities.

Bayeta pants are not as common as ponchos, but they are still occasionally worn.

Bayeta pants

Generally, Quechua men wear Western-style clothing under ponchos, but some still wear beige or white bayeta pants – knee-length breeches that are hand-woven.