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
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.
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
"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.
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.
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
apparently imported from the Czech Republic and then gold plated in
Ecuador, so are not more than about 8 or 9% gold. The red
bracelets are traditionally believed to ward off evil spirits.
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
traditional sandals, to the extent that elderly ladies sometimes
shuffle out in warm, sensible slippers instead.
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
women seem to wear the traditional costume, allegedly because the
keeping the white trousers and shoes immaculately clean is such a
they are usually saved for special occasions only.
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
may be able to find out much about the people who made your souvenir
and their way of life.
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.
The Otavaleños' traditional style of
- design and symbolism of the Otavalo regional costume.