The highlight of many visitors’ trips to Guatemala is the brightly colored clothing worn by indigenous women of the mountainous Western Highlands. Each region or town has a unique, locally made design. All indigenous dress is called traje and is made up of three components. The corte is nothing more than a large piece of fabric folded and tied around the waist as a skirt. Some women wear it at knee-length, others longer, and women in Alta and Baja Verapaz wear corte that falls all the way to the ground. Holding up the corte is the faja, a long, thin piece of fabric tied around the waist like a belt. The faja can be found in a wide variety of colors and thicknesses as well. The outfit is rounded out by the famous huipil, or blouse. This is where the difference between regions and ethnicities can be seen the most. After spending some time in the country, it is easy to tell where a woman is from just by glancing at her huipil.
Women in certain parts of the country use various sorts of hair wraps as well. For example, the cintas from the Ixil Region in the department of Quiché are strips of fabric weaved in and out of the wearer’s hair to form an almost crown-like headpiece. In other places, these cintas take the form of yarn-like balls that flop around atop women’s heads as they walk. Such headpieces are typically worn for special occasions or formal ceremonies. The final piece of indigenous dress you will encounter is the reboso, a large squares of colorful fabric with many uses. The versatile reboso can be placed over the head for sun protection, draped over the shoulders for warmth, or even slung over the back as a makeshift baby carrier.
Men in certain regions of the country still use indigenous dress, but it is not nearly as common as in the past. Regardless of age, women are much more likely to use their traje on a consistent basis. Throughout the highlands, older men often wear their traditional garments, whereas younger boys opt for Western fashions like jeans, t-shirts, and baseball caps. Notable areas where a large number of men still wear indigenous dress include Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Santiago Atitlán, San Juan Atitán, Nahualá, and San Martín Sacatepéquez, among others. Unfortunately, fewer men choose to use their traditional clothing with each passing generation. Whether or not indigenous dress is used, men strive to look as presentable as possible. Even the poorest men stay clean-shaven and always wear a button down shirt with slacks. Shorts are not socially acceptable outside of the home, though you won’t offend anyone as a tourist if you choose to show some leg.