The Keepsake

Guatemalan Huipil

Issue 1 · Winter 2014/15
· Images Louisa Parry
Issue 1 · Winter 2014/15
· Images Louisa Parry

One of the pleasures of travel is tracking down treasures to bring home. For Scott Dunn’s Latin America Expert Karen Chapman, one item stands out from the rest: the Guatemalan huipil, or traditional embroidered poncho. “They’re so colourful, full of reds, blues and yellows,” she says. “But then Guatemala is such a vibrant, colourful country.” Dating back to before the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empires, the huipil is a loose tunic made from two or three panels of fabric, which are stitched together or joined with ribbons, and then decorated. “The style and design of the huipil is meant to indicate the wearer’s ethnicity, social standing, marital status, wealth, religion and even which community they’ve come from,” says Chapman. “Some are designed for everyday use, while there are other more labour-intensive huipils for special occasions such as weddings.” Vintage pieces, like the one pictured, are available from markets and Guatemalan villages, and local guides can tip you off as to who are the best sellers near where you are staying. “I bought some huipils for my children," says Chapman. “They can carry off the bright colours and people always comment when they wear them to parties. They are a bit different to the standard pink and gold dresses, after all!”

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