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Ancient Inca Clothing

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The huge Inca Empire covered all of Peru, stretching from beyond Lake Titicaca in the south to Colombia in north.

Within the Inca society of Peru, ancient Inca clothing was a very important and integral part of their culture.



Ancient Inca Clothing of Peru- Its Place in the Inca Culture

In the Incan culture, the way a person was dressed said a lot about them and it dictated how society as a whole perceived them.

Inca clothing was strictly controlled by the Inca government.

A person was given two sets of clothes, one for formal occasions and a set for day-to-day informal wear.

Clothes allotted to a person were not replaced until that person had completely worn out the original sets.




The finest clothing made is a person's skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this. 

~Mark Twain



To this day, traditional Peruvian clothing reflects Inca clothes of the past.


In the very beginning of the Inca people of Peru, the ancient Inca clothing or attire was simple and functional and not at all flashy.

However, in the Imperial days of their culture, they managed to completely excel at the art of creating very glamorous Inca clothes (see Peru Museums).

Interestingly, during their Imperial days in Peru, the Incas imposed their Inca clothing styles on every population that they managed to conquer.

For this reason, the influence of ancient Inca clothing is seen now in traditional Peruvian clothing even beyond the Andes regions.

Of course, the Incas wore warmer clothing and even layered their clothing in the cooler temperatures of the Highlands weather, but Inca clothes of the more coastal areas consisted of much lighter material.

They had wool for the cooler highlands and cotton fabric for the coastal areas.


Inca Tupa Inca TunicTupa Inca Tunic - ca. 1550

One of the most interesting aspects of Inca clothing is that irrespective of whether the fabric were woven or knitted, these Inca clothes were worn in their entirety with no alterations.

All of the clothing in the earliest days was held together by very large metal pins.

Of the different types of textile fibers, the roughest materials were relegated to the Inca clothes of the more common people.



Inca Clothes - Three Distinct Uses


Among the reasons that the government restricted all use of Inca clothing was the not only the level of society in which it placed an Inca but the part played by clothing in the Inca economy and religion.

The Incas learned very early on that they could trade the materials with each other as well as with other cultures.

This was an important factor in trade and was the second reason that clothing was strictly regulated; again with the resulting prevalence of Inca styles throughout traditional Peruvian clothing.

The third area of regulation was the material and clothing dedicated only for use by the priests and for religious articles and ceremonies.







Ancient Inca Clothing of the Inca Emperor in Peru

The Inca Emperor (Sapa Inca) only wore his clothes once. After he wore them, they were ceremoniously burnt.

There were a few chosen women who were honored with the responsibility of preparing the Inca clothes for the Emperor and they kept very busy getting new Inca clothing for him every day.

The head wraps of the Inca Emperor always contained special feathers and gold fringe.

The very rare and somewhat curious Coraquenque bird's feathers adorned his head piece to distinguish an air of royalty.

Among his Inca clothes, he owned a coat which was decorated with several assorted jewels and pieces of turquoise.

Sapa (King) Inca wore several pieces of jewelry on various parts of his body that consisted of heavy gold plates on his shoulders, gold bracelets with gold earrings.

In time, the heavy golden earrings weighed his ear lobes down long enough to rest on his gold shoulder pads.

His shoes were especially made for him from both fur and leather.

From the feathers of Hummingbirds there was an outline made for his royal badge, which was then encircled in gold.

He also wore an adorned shield on his chest which was engraved in the likeness of the Sun God that the community worshiped.


Ancient Inca Clothing of the Inca Nobles in Peru

Inca nobles wore were rich costumes, but not quite as rich as the Emperors.

The Inca clothing of this nobility class was made from wool, which was very richly dyed and to which ornaments of precious stones and gold were added.

The nobles also wore head wraps adorned with tasseled fringe. Inca sandals were made from llama hide.


Ancient Inca Clothing of the Inca Women in Peru

Women usually wore a one piece dress that draped to their ankles with a jeweled sash at the waist.

Their Inca clothes were held together with large ornamental pins.

They used the pins as knives in their daily tasks.

The women used sandals like the men's and they wore a head dress.

Their hair was not cut unless they were in mourning.



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