Ida: Spanish Influence on Fashion in the 16th Century
By Lauren Velazquez of FIU
Lauren Velazquez is a sophomore at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Biology on a pre-med track; aspiring to become an Anesthesiologist. Lauren loves to explore, which gives her the opportunity to not only gain new knowledge but a new perspective. And she is able to do this through John Bailly’s class: Spain Study Abroad: Miami y España: Ida y Vuelta.
There were many different aspects of the Americas (pre-columbian time) that were influenced and transformed due to the interactions of Columbus and the beginning of the colonization process in the Americas. The Europeans were more advanced in comparison to those who were previously settled in the Americas. Between the two parties there were lots of exchanges that occurred with their encounter, some beneficial others being disadvantages.
Fashion was one of the concepts that changed dramatically during the period of the European explorers settling in the Americas. Fashion is seen as a form of expression which holds the individual’s identity and culture. It is known that before the Americas were colonized, those native to the lands had their own sense of fashion. Their “sense of fashion” branched off from their experience using their resources made available to them and the knowledge they gained from living on the land in order to survive.
Prior to Colonization
The groups that inhabited the American lands were the: Native Americans, Eskimos, the Aztec, the Maya and the Inca. The way these groups dressed themselves were according to their geographic location and the resources they were able to obtain. Animal skin played the biggest role in all of their clothing items regardless of their location and environment.
Painting of Sauk and Fox Indians // CC 4.0 Karl Bodmer, 1833
Making use of everything around them and not letting anything go to waste; Native Americans would skin the animal they were using as a food source to make clothing out of them. With the animal’s skin, dresses were made for the women and garments for the men. The common animals at the time that were used were: buffalo, deers and wolves (to name a few) (Medicine. B). This was accomplished through the process of tanning. The animal is skinned, then the hair would be removed and would be left out to dry with the use of oils in order to convert it into leather. During this time period, the Natives executed the tanning process using the oils from the animals brain. This was a convenient way for them to use the resources made available to them whilst not wasting anything in their environment. It was known and recognized that the Native Americans were conscious about the resources they used in order to avoid destroying and taking advantage of their land. Their sewing was done using bones and the animals’ fibrous tissue. There were also accessories involved in these outfits for both men and women. These were fabricated with the use of feathers and buffalo horns to make the head pieces worn by their tribe (Britannica). Another feature included in their attires were the body paint included, usually being red or black. This “paint” came from the clay and mud. This paint was used for different reasons; those being camouflage and protection. The natives would use the body paint in order to camouflage themselves with their surroundings for either hunting or for war. In order to protect themselves from the sun and possibly any other threats to the skin, like bugs, the paint also came in handy. There were times where paint was used regularly in their attire, which makes it a part of the Native American fashion. These were all a part of their culture.
The Aztec, Mayas, and Inca dressed similarly to the natives, having used similar resources. Although this group mainly used cotton fibers to create clothing. Men wore garments, women wore dresses or skirts with scarves around their breast and the children remained without clothing (Britannica). Their attires were considered to be colorful due to their techniques in dying the clothes. They had decorations on their closing as well, there were flowers sewed on to their shirts, blouses, and dresses. The Aztec, Maya and Inca also wore lots of gold jewelry. Their style of dressing had meaning attached to it, it was more than just a clothing item used to cover up: it was a day distinguished who they were and what they represented. The representation their attire expressed was the social rank, gender and even religion (Beltrán-Rubio. L).
Painting of Inuit family from Alaska wearing fur parkas, early 19th century // CC 4.0 Library of Congress
Eskimos on the other hand had a different style due to the intense weather conditions they faced. Eskimos used animals that were heavy with fur, when they tanned their animals skins they left the hairs on. They made clothing with the fur on the inside in order to keep warm. They were sewed to fit the skin and keep the cold out; in comparison to the Native with loose attire to remain cool in the hot weather. The animal they used to make these articles of clothing was the skin and fur from a caribou (National Park Service). This type of skin was ideal for the conditions that the Eskimos were in. The skin and fur of a caribou consisted of caribou hide; the caribou hide helped with insulation and prevented the cold air from entering the fur into the skin as well as avoiding the water from the snow (National Park Service). Something interesting about the Eskimos is that they used the gut of the seal to make their trunks water resistant (Britannica). Again this is something they developed because of their environment, the snow is very wet and to avoid them from getting wet, they discovered that the seal’s gut would aid in this.
Photo of Chief Iron Tail, Sioux Indian: Gertrude Kasebier // CC 4.0 by National Museum of American History, 1898
All of the attire worn in these groups had meaning. Usually, their head pieces held the most meaning and portrayed their rank. Each group and tribe had their own culture and meaning behind their headdresses and why they were made the way they were. These headpieces had various usages: used as war bonnets for those that were brave and displayed leadership, used as a fashion accessory (by the natives), and used for spiritually driven ceremonies (Hill. A). The headdresses used by Native Americans are seen as the most significant in their book of fashion. The headpieces were obtained in different ways. For the war bonnet, those who have gone to war and proven their bravery will collect feathers eventually obtaining enough for their piece to be made. For ceremonies, one that the headdress is commonly used for is pow wow and even weddings; these headpieces are also made and gifted to those who earn it. Giving consideration to the meaning behind the headpieces made by the Native Americans, it heavily impacts the way they are worn in today’s day and age. These are not pieces that should be worn to make a fashion statement. These headpieces have significant meaning to the Native Americans and their culture. When someone outside of their culture has worn a Native American headpiece, it is seen as cultural appropriation. It is disrespectful to wear a large feathered headpiece for recreational purposes without understanding the importance that the headdresses held for the Native Americans back in the day. The hardships that the Native Americans faced should be taken into consideration in order to pay respect to their culture and identity.
Before Leaving the Home Land
Painting of Thomas Cromwell // CC 4.0 by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1537.
In the 16th century, Europeans were in the process of developing their own sense of style during this period: The Renaissance. Those that inhabited the Americas had a very style different from the Europeans. The style was derived from the English, French, Italian and most influential the Spanish. This difference came from not only their location but the technological advantages the Europeans parties had. Europeans had clothing made out of silk and cotton shirts. These shirts were heavy in detail. The necks of the shirts were embroidered and the front of the chest area had big ruffles. The garments the men wore varied depending on their age. The younger men would wear loose shorts that were fitted at their knees in order to show their leg structure, whilst having the garments under. In contrast to the older men that wore: garments, shorts and a long skirt. The purpose of the gown was to cover their legs. The way the skirts for the men were made had an opening in the front, folded back to show the difference in what they wore while also keeping it covered (Britannica). With each of these outfits the men also wore hats that were made of velvet material in the shape of a triangle, worn at an angle. Shortly after, this changed leaving men to wear only trunks with thigh high boots and a fitting jacket with buttons down the middle. The women constantly wore gowns, long exaggerated puffy gowns. Under the gowns there were garments the women wore that were sure to be seen while wearing the gown. The lining of the gown for the neck was in a square shape, extending out into long sleeves (Britannica). European fashion was heavy on petite bodies for the women. Their gowns were worn with corsets that gave the illusion that they had small waists. The accessories worn by the women would be large pieces of jewelry in order to help in framing their face, usually consisting of gold or pearl pieces. Lots of colors and floral patterns were being used for these dresses.
Settlement has Taken Place
After exploring the way the two parties dressed before their interaction, there were many differences. One of the differences seen is the material used for their apparel. Those native to the Americas resorted to animal skin converted to leather to create their garments and dresses. The Europeans did not use animal skin, they were ‘more advanced’ and used silk to create different pieces of clothing: garments, trunks, skirts and gowns. The way the Europeans dressed seemed to be more conservative in comparison to the Native Americans that usually just wore garments. At the same time, there were some similarities: there were accessories involved in their styles. Native Americans used headpieces made from feathers and buffalo horns while Europeans had necklaces made of gold and pearls.
When the Europeans began to settle within the Americans, there was more of a change in their style in comparison to the style of Native Americans. The Native Americans began to incorporate different items in their apparel. They began to use silk as the Europeans did in order to make some of their clothing. They also incorporated glass beads and metal pots to resemble jewelry that they made to wear. Overall, Native Americans kept their style in order to preserve their identity. On the contrary, Europeans that settled had to change their style and what they wore in order to live comfortably in their new environment. Depending on where they settled, there were different climates they were experiencing that varied from the weather conditions seen in Europe. For the Spanish that settled in Florida, there was a similar climate between the two locations so they did not need to change the way they dressed. Other Europeans settled in places up north that had intense weather conditions. This resulted in them having to change their attire; they turned to fur and animal skins in order to keep them warm. This is knowledge the Europeans had gained from the Native Americans living on the land. Due to the change of environment and lifestyle the Europeans were facing in the process of settling; they were constantly working and completing projects. This changed the way they made their clothes to material that was more sturdy for the day to day tasks they were completing (Lepionka. M). European men began to wear “breeches”, which are full length pants with the fitting jackets. The women began to wear shorter gowns with short sleeves in order to also aid their daily tasks. The new environment had influenced the change in style for Europeans.
Fashion varies around the world depending on your social status, culture, identity and geographic location. It is also something that is subject to change depending on the development of not only your environment but how the individual lives their day to day life; as did the fashion of the Europeans that migrated to the Americas. Fashion can be used and seen as an art form to express emotions and stories. There are items in fashion that have significant meaning that can be tied to spiritual ceremonies like the Native Americans did.
Britannica, “The Pre-Columbian Americas”, 2022 https://www.britannica.com/topic/dress-clothing/The-pre-Columbian-Americas
Medicine. B, “North America: History of Indigenous Peoples’ Dress”, 2020 https://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/clothing-around-world/north-america-history-indigenous-peoples-dress
Lepionka. M, “Native American Influence on English Fashions”, 2018 https://historicipswich.org/2021/01/21/native-american-influence-on-english-fashions/
Hill. A, “Great Plains Feather Headdress”,2020 https://fashionandrace.org/database/great-plains-feather-headdress/
National Park Service, “Caribou Skin Clothing”, 2021 https://www.nps.gov/gaar/learn/historyculture/caribou-skin-clothing.htm
Rubio. L, “Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican Dress”, 2021 https://fashionandrace.org/database/reading-list-pre-columbian-mesoamerican-dress/