Cloaks are among the most common garment in human clothing history; cultures across time and the globe have used cloaks to keep warm. Blanket-like cloaks were worn by both men and women of the Mayan, Aztec, and Inca empires. Each empire used a different name for their cloaks, and often cloaks worn by men had different names than those worn by women.
Mayan men wore cloaks called pati, which were cloths tied around the shoulders. The pati of poor Mayans were plain cotton cloaks, but the highest-ranking Mayan men draped elegant pati of jaguar skin or feathers from a quetzal (a bird with brilliant blue-green feathers that reach three feet in length) around their shoulders. The cloaks of Aztecs, for which no specific name is known, were designed differently for people of different rank as well. The poorest people wore cloaks woven from the fiber of maguey, a spiny-leaved plant. Their cloaks reached no further than their knees. The wealthiest people wore extravagantly decorated cotton cloaks that swept the ground. Cloaks were such a symbol of wealth among the Aztecs that people sometimes wore more than one cloak at a time if they could afford it. However, each year Aztec emperors did grant poor people gifts of cloaks that had been given to the emperors from conquered peoples.
Inca men called their cloaks yacolla. Worn while dancing or working, yacolla were tied over the left shoulder to secure them if needed. Inca women fastened their cloaks, called lliclla, with pins in front of their chests. The poorest Incas wore simple cloaks, but the wealthiest wore cloaks made of specially woven fabric called cumbi cloth, which had designs indicating a person's rank woven into the fabric.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Aztecs: Reign of Blood and Splendor. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1992.
Bray, Warwick. Everyday Life of the Aztecs. New York: Putnam, 1968.
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.
Wood, Tim. The Aztecs. New York: Viking, 1992.
A cloak, or outer draped garment that looks like a cape, was used by almost every Native American tribe since the beginning of their civilizations. Made of a square, circular, or rectangular piece of cloth, a cloak was most often pinned at the neck and draped over the shoulders and hung down the back to the ankles. Another style of cloak was made out of a piece of cloth with a hole cut in the center for the head and looked like a modern poncho. Cloaks could be made of antelope, buffalo, caribou, deer, rabbit, whale, or other animal skin, mulberry bark, or of woven buffalo or coyote hair. During the earliest years of civilization on the North American continent, inhabitants often wore no covering on their upper bodies except for cloaks on cold or rainy days. By the seventeenth century cloaks continued to be used as outer garments. However, cloaks were no longer the only covering for the upper body. Men wore tunics, or shirts, and women wore dresses to cover their upper bodies.
Cloaks could be simple outerwear for both women and men, but they could also be prized status symbols for some. Buffalo cloaks, or robes, were worn by many tribes but were prized possessions of those in the Great Basin (a desert region in the western United States), and on the Plains and the Plateau. The Cheyenne of the Plains especially valued cloaks made of white buffalo. Sioux Indians of the Plains decorated their buffalo robes with painted symbols to indicate their age, sex, marital status, and tribal status, among other things. Sioux men trying to find a wife wore buffalo robes with horizontal strips that featured four medallions; they also painted red handprints on their cloaks if they had been wounded in battle or black handprints if they had killed an enemy. In California only very wealthy men wore cloaks made of feathers, and waterproof turkey feather cloaks were highly prized among the Delaware Indians of the Northeast.
As Native Americans began trading with Europeans, they slowly began adopting Western styles of dress. Cloaks were soon replaced with blankets and then sewn jackets.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Hofsinde, Robert. Indian Costumes. New York: William Morrow, 1968.
Hungry Wolf, Adolf. Traditional Dress: Knowledge and Methods of Old-Time Clothing. Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Co., 1990.
Paterek, Josephine. Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1994.