Otavalo Traditional Costume
Woman in traditional costume at Otavalo market
Embroidery detail on traditional Otavalo blouses
Embroidery in progress
Traditional woven belts
Traditional beads for the women of Otavalo.
Traditional alpargata sandal made from cactus fibre

The traditional costume of
Otavalo is still worn by many Otavaleños on a daily basis.

Otavalo Traditional Costume

The traditional costume of Otavalo is daily wear for much of the population of the town and is widely seen in the rest of the country as well.  In many jobs where a uniform is usually worn, such as in hotels, the Otavaleños are permitted to wear their traditional costume instead.  It is said that if an Otavaleño ceases to wear their traditional dress, they lose rights in the community.
Traditional dress for the Otavalo women consists of a long dark skirt with pale underskirt, fastened with a woven belt, and an ornate embroidered white blouse with full, lacy sleeves and collar.  The women also wear a cloth or woven binding around their hair.
The "skirts" are actually two separate pieces of cloth with no tailoring at all, simply wapped around and held in place by the belt.  If you look closely you may see tiny, detailed embroidery along the selvedge of the cloth.  The wide belts are woven in detailed and intricate designs with traditional weaving techniques which have been used in Otavalo for centuries.
The traditional white blouses for the women of Otavalo have broad, intricately-embroidered collars and sleeves.  Traditionally all the embroidery would be done by hand, though these days some is done by machine.  A hand-embroidered traditional blouse may take a month of work and consequently has a high value.
The many strings of tiny gold bead necklaces represent grains of maize and signify the woman's importance in the Otavalo community: more beads = more status.  The beads are not real gold (at least, not since the time of the Conquistadores, who stole huge amounts of gold to take back to Spain).  These days the beads are apparently imported from the Czech Republic and then gold plated in Ecuador, so are not more than about 8 or 9% gold.  The red bead bracelets are traditionally believed to ward off evil spirits. 
Both men and women wear open sandals called alpargata, made from cactus fibre, although wellington boots are also common now.  One Otavaleña admitted to me that their feet can get chilly in the traditional sandals, to the extent that elderly ladies sometimes shuffle out in warm, sensible slippers instead.
The traditional Otavalo costume of the men is white, cropped-length trousers with a dark poncho and felt hat.  They wear their long hair braided, just as in the traditional woven pictures.  Otavaleño men also wear alpargata (cactus fibre sandals), though these are usually white.  Fewer men than women seem to wear the traditional costume, allegedly because the keeping the white trousers and shoes immaculately clean is such a challenge that they are usually saved for special occasions only.
The colourful costumes are very photogenic, but please respect local people and ask before photographing them.  Many Otavaleños are happy to answer questions and pose for photos, especially those who work in the tourism industry.  Buying something from a trader in the central plaza is one way to get better photo opportunities with willing models.  Most are willing to chat, on quiet days, and you may be able to find out much about the people who made your souvenir and their way of life.  Visit Otavalo and its textile market to see for yourself the people who wear their regional dress with such pride and find out more about their beautiful traditional costume.

Otavalo Traditional Costume
The Otavaleños' traditional style of dress  - design and symbolism of the Otavalo regional costume.