In many Maya villages, a person’s clothing can also communicate his or her age and marital status. This status is largely based on a person’s place within the life cycle, for example, infant, adolescent, married adult, widow, or elder. Each stage in the life cycle has an appropriate type of dress. For example, traditionally, the width and length of a woman’s sash corresponds to her age and marital status in some Maya communities. Older women and married women wear longer and wider sashes, while girls and single women wear shorter and narrower sashes. In some villages, these wider sashes serve a very practical purpose: to give bodily support to women who are pregnant.
Lighthearted belts, such as the ones to the left from Totonicapán, Guatemala, are popular among children and tourists who visit Maya areas. These belts often depict human figures, geometric forms, and animals, and these designs may be repeated several times in the length of the belt.
Belts worn by many older women may include similar motifs and designs as found in those worn by girls. Usually, the designs are more mature, and the quality of the work may be better or more elaborate. In some Maya villages, wider belts, such as the one below from Jacaltenango, Guatemala, are worn by older women. This belt features embroidery on both the inside and outside of the belt, making it reversible.
Mourning the death of a close family member, a husband in particular, is a long process for Mesoamerican women. Widows must wear a mourning huipil long after the husband’s death and honor the anniversary of his passing for years to come. In some communities, widows are not allowed to fully participate in community festivities, like fiestas. Sometimes mourning huipils are garments that vary dramatically from everyday attire. In other cases, the huipils are very similar, but subtle design differences will mark the garment as a mourning huipil. In many communities, widows are revered and respected people; the type of clothing they wear automatically invokes this respect in other members of their community.
This huipil is worn by widows in Mixco, a Poqomam-speaking community in Guatemala. It is woven on a backstrap loom and features pink crochet around the neck. While the bodice is brocaded, the lower edge of this huipil is plain; this is characteristic of huipils from Mixco. The brocade design on the bodice of this huipil is of human figures and birds. The image to the right is a detail of this design.
Compare this everyday huipil to the preceding one. This huipil is from the same community as the above huipil. It also has a brocaded bodice and a plain lower half. Also, the brocaded designs, particularly the birds, are quite similar. The image on the right is a detail of this design. This huipil, though, is much more colorful and is for everyday wear, while the preceding huipil is worn during the mourning period.