Aztec emissaries delivering offerings to Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. The Aztecs are wearing traditional Indian cloaks and loincloths. Reproduced by permission of © Bettmann/
M en in the Mayan, Aztec, and Inca empires all wore loincloths, the most basic form of male clothing in many ancient cultures. Loincloths were made out of strips of fabric wound around the waist and between the legs, leaving flaps hanging in the front and back. The climate of Central and South America was so warm that sometimes a loincloth was the only garment men would wear.
The loincloths worn in each empire ranged from simple and plain to beautifully decorated garments. Mayans called the loincloth an ex and made it out of an eight- to ten-foot length of cotton cloth. The poorest Mayan men would wear a plain ex, but wealthier men would wear an ex made from patterned cloth and adorned with embroidery, feathers, or fringe. Aztec men wore loincloths, for which no specific name is known, starting at age four. Aztec society enforced strict laws about which men could wear certain types of
loincloths. Those wearing the wrong type of loincloth would be severely punished. Men of wealth and power could wear cotton, but poorer men were forced to wear loincloths made of maguey fiber, a fleshy-leaved plant fiber. From age fourteen or fifteen Inca men wore a loincloth called a guara, which was made out of a long cloth about four inches wide. The highest ranking men could wear guara with special designs woven into the fabric.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Aztecs: Reign of Blood and Splendor. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1992.
Cobo, Bernabé. Inca Religion and Customs. Translated and edited by Roland Hamilton. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1990.
Day, Nancy. Your Travel Guide to Ancient Mayan Civilization. Minneapolis, MN: Runestone Press, 2001.