By Julie R Butler
When I first came to Pátzcuaro, I was enchanted by the Purépecha women of the region and their traditional rebozos.
At the time, I would have never dreamed of wearing a rebozo myself, in part because I was told that each indigenous group had a specific rebozo design that identified them, kind of like how Scottish clans each have their distinctive kilt patterns, and I didn’t want to try to appropriate a garments with so much cultural significance.
As it turns out, the significance of the rebozo in Purépecha culture is even more than that:
De colores, bordados, deshilados o con plumas, el rebozo purépecha es más que una indumentaria para proteger a la mujer del frío, es un símbolo de su cultura, identidad, feminidad y estado civil que portan con orgullo y elegancia.
Of colors, embroidery, frayed or feathered, the Purépecha rebozo is more than just clothing to protect women from the cold, it is a symbol of their culture, identity, femininity and marital status that they carry with pride and elegance.
Once I started paying more attention, I realized that younger females wear flashier colored rebozos, while the older women wrap themselves in more discrete tones. And indeed, the custom is for married women to wear conservative colors, while older women must wear dark hues. Additionally, Purépecha women are usually wrapped in a white rebozo when burried.
I love how rebozo designs and fabrics differ by region. For example, the rebozos from Oaxaca tend to be lighterweight than the ones from Michoacán. And then there are the famous Santa María del Río rebozos, which represent the styles from San Luis Potosí.
Beyond its cultural importance, I love the utility of this simple piece of cloth. The rebozo is not just useful as a head covering to protect against the sun or a shawl to wrap up in against the chill, but it can also be used to transport things and carry babies, in addition to making a fashion statement or classing up your look.
Here in the Pátzcuaro Lake region, I still see mothers carrying their babies on their backs, bundled cozily in these instant baby carriers. Mexican women have known of the benefits of keeping their children close to their bodies for centuries before babywearing became trendy in the industrialized world!
I’ve gotten over my reluctance toward wearing rebozos, after seeing more and more women wearing them and admiring how graceful and chic they can be. Frida Kahlo loved to wear rebozos, and now I do too. I have a few of them, and in fact, I don’t think it’s possible to have too many of them!