Refajo avaWomen of El Salvador usually wear wide flounce skirts in traditional blue and white colors as their national wear. But these are rather modern garments. If we think about older apparel worn by the local indigenous people, the traditional clothes are very different. They’re simpler, hand-woven, sewn from smaller amount of fabric, and less decorated. Still, those ancient Salvadorian garments look just as cute but are more practical. Take, for example, the traditional refajo skirt.

The photos are from Penn Museum collection

A refajo skirt is a comparatively short hand-woven wrap-around skirt. It was used in several South American countries – El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador, etc. This skirt is one of the aboriginal pieces of clothing known since the Mayan period.

A refajo looked like a simple rectangular piece of cloth wrapped around the lower body. It was typically adorned with woven patterns or embroidery. The most popular pattern was striped or checkered because it’s easy to weave, but sometimes, there were embroidered vines, flowers, animals, and other symbolic designs along the borders and seams.

The color of a refajo wrap-around skirt could be different – red, black, yellow, blue, and so on. Also, the woven or embroidered patterns were made in contrasting colors. For example, red stripes on yellow skirt or white patterns on blue skirt or a combination of blue, violet, and green stripes, etc. Mayan people have always loved colorful clothes.


Lovely Mayan red refajo skirt from 1940
Lovely red refajo skirt from 1940. The patterns are not very complicated but really cute


By the way, to make a refajo skirt, the craftswomen use ancient traditional Mayan weaving and embroidering techniques, so this garment is a significant part of Mayan cultural heritage.

Though a refajo skirt is an ancient piece, it was still produced and sold in El Salvador in the late 20th century. As it was hand-woven, the cost of a refajo was rather high, so women gradually gave up on wearing it and replaced it with modern factory-made and cheap skirts and dresses. Sadly, this authentic traditional skirt worn by the local women for centuries is today practically out of use. Some Salvadorian indigenous women make and dress in refajo, but there are so few of them nowadays.


Colorful Mayan refajo skirt belongs to Cakchiquel culture

Colorful Mayan refajo skirt belongs to Cakchiquel culture
Colorful refajo skirt that belongs to the Cakchiquel culture

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