Typical Latin American Dress

Written by wendie pecharsky
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Typical Latin American Dress
Bright colours and slim silhouettes are typical of Latin American styles. (dress maker"s dummy image by agno_agnus from Fotolia.com)

Typical Latin American dress today is influenced by a mixture of traditions handed down over the generations. In general, modern-day Latino clothing is characterised by its emphasis on colour and cut in both men's and women's fashions. The use of bold colours like black, red, orange and bright blue is a staple for women's clothing, along with embellishments like fringe and embroidery. For men, form-fitting shirts and slim-cut trousers are common.

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Key Pieces

Typical dress for Latin Americans today includes several key pieces that have cultural and historical significance. For example, the poncho, a rectangular or square piece of fabric with an opening in the centre for the head, originated with the indigenous cultures of South and Central America and is said to be a forerunner of Victorian-era cloaks or capes. The bolero jacket, a short jacket historically made of silk, velvet or wool with embroidered detail and silver buttons, had its origins in the short waist jackets worn by Andalusian cattle herders. Tango skirts, which are slit open in the front to allow for movement and often feature tiers of ruffles, developed with the tango dance, which originated in Argentina. Other typical Latin American pieces worn today include the peasant blouse, which is said to have originated in Mexico in the early 17th century, and the shawl or mantilla, which was the traditional head covering worn by Spanish women during the Middle Ages.

Women's Styles

Typically, the way Latin Americans dress today depends on their country of origin. In Ecuador, women wear well-fitting tops, trousers and jeans. Dresses and skirts are not common for urban women, but in coastal towns, leg-baring fashions abound. In Bolivia and Peru, young city women dress very stylishly in short skirts and sleeveless tops, but in outlying areas, conservative dress is favoured. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, businesswomen generally wear tailored skirt or pants suits in solid muted colours and earth tones. In El Salvador, women lean toward long skirts and blouses with sleeves.

Men's Styles

Latin American men's clothing tends to be more fitted and colourful than that of their Anglo counterparts. Shirts are generally tight fitting and are worn in a broad range of colours---even pink. Jeans and trousers are also cut slim to accentuate the body.

Influence on America

The U.S. first expressed interest in the styles of the Latino world around 1910, when textile designers in New York looked to Latin America for creative inspiration. Latin America really came into the limelight during World War II, when the Nazi occupation of Europe interrupted the French influence on U.S. designers. In the years following the war, Latino fashion designers invaded the U.S., bringing with them the Latin American penchant for plunging necklines, ruffled tiered skirts and peasant blouses.

Traditional Dress

The countries of South and Central America, including Mexico, Brazil and Haiti are the birthplaces of many contemporary Latin American fashions. In the countries that once made up the Incan Empire (Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and part of northern Argentina), garments for the wealthy or socially prominent were adorned with embroidery, feathers, beads and gold or silver discs. After the Spanish conquest around 1532, upper-class male natives wore a combination of Inca and Spanish clothes: knee-length tunics and tight-fitting Spanish knee breeches. In the Mexican city of Guanajuato, traditional women's garb consisted of four skirts decorated with frills, braid and ribbon and layered one atop the other. The back of the topmost skirt had a little train, a nod to the flamenco dresses worn by Spanish women. With their skirts, women wore white short-sleeved peasant blouses with embroidered necklines and beaded shawls.

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