Peoples and Nations

Aztec Empire: Simple Clothing, Elaborate Decorations

Aztec Empire: Simple Clothing, Elaborate Decorations

All Aztecs dressed rather simply on a daily basis, according to their station in life. Men of both the noble and common class wore a loincloth and a cape called a tilma. Variations in fabric, trim and how the tilma was worn revealed the status of the wearer. Women of all classes wore a blouse and a long skirt with a sash at the waist. Very young children wore nothing until the age of three or four, when boys started wearing the tilma and girls the blouse and skirt. The girls' skirts started out short, but grew to ankle length as a girl grew older.

A major difference between the classes is that the nobles could wear cotton garments and the commoners had to make do with ayate cloth, made from the maguey cactus. Cotton was the finer cloth; in fact, cotton cloth was used as currency. However, the cloth made from the maguey plant was comfortable and sturdy, suitable for people who worked physically as most commoners did.

While sandals were worn by nobles, especially the males, most Aztecs went barefoot. Entering a temple or going before the emperor required all to be barefoot.

All Aztecs of any class loved colorful clothing. With their far-flung trading networks, many plant dyes were available, though only the wealthiest could afford the finest dyes. Blues, yellows, reds adorned the capes, blouses and skirts of the Aztec people.

While simple clothing was the choice for daily living, festival or ceremonial clothing could be elaborate, decorated with fur and feathers and trim of contrasting colors and fabrics. Aztecs decorated themselves with jewelry-nose rings, ear rings and plugs, labrets for the lips and tongue, necklaces, bracelets and rings were made of precious metals or carved from bone, shells, antler or wood. Jewelry was created from precious stones such as jade or topaz as well as the teeth and claws of animals. Aztec artists created feather capes and headdresses, and made a fine art of feather working.

What the different classes wore was a matter of law in the Aztec Empire. Woe betide the commoner who dressed as a noble. Laws defined what garb was reserved to the emperor, such as headdresses of gold and quetzal feathers, or to nobles, such as who could wear leather sandals. These laws were strictly enforced and the penalty was death.

The wealthy merchant class had its own rules and section of the city, but even they could not dress as elaborately as nobles. However, their clothing was far more decorated and colorful than was acceptable for the commoners.