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Central American Headwear

Author: Beverly Chico


Central America includes seven countries: Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. A tropical jungle covers eastern sections of Honduras and Nicaragua along the “Mosquito Coast.” Geography has influenced the development of clothing and headwear in this region. After the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, Europeans began dominating local inhabitants, using them as miners, farm laborers, or for maritime trade. Slaves were also transported from Africa and the West Indies. These contacts resulted in a modern population comprising mostly farmers with mestizo (Spanish and indigenous) or mulatto (African and indigenous) mixed ancestry, and a small ruling European class. The hot climate necessitated various forms of head coverings over the centuries for male and female agricultural workers, including cotton bandanas and straw sombreros. In some isolated communities residents have retained headwear with traditional weaving techniques, such as the Maya men from the Guatemalan highlands, who still wear the ancient cloth tzut. Nicaragua is also rich in practices merging different cultures, including the Maypole Festival, when locals wear colorful hand-painted derby-shaped hats and dance to African-style music. After gaining freedom from Spain in the 1820s, most Central American countries adopted their own flags and national costumes. These colorful outfits and headpieces appear at national festivals and celebrations. Some may have influences from Spanish regional dress, while others are unique to Central America—Panama Hats have become iconic. Together with baseball caps, also made in Central America, they are exported to markets around the world.

This is an abstract of an article from the Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion. The full article is available in the Berg Fashion Library.

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