Inca clothing was a strictly controlled and highly significant aspect of Inca society. Clothing was supplied by the state, each member of society being given two sets, one for general use and one for formal occasions such as religious ceremonies and celebrations.
Inca Clothing: Status & Style
A person was supplied with clothing relevant to his or her social status. The finest Inca materials were reserved for the nobility and members of the royal circle while lesser quality, coarser items were given to commoners. Punishment was severe for any person wearing items beyond his social rank.
The style of Inca clothing was subject to Inca geography. Heavier, warmer materials were common in the colder Andean highlands (such as llama, alpaca and vicuna wool, the latter being worn almost exclusively by royalty), while lighter cloth was used in the warmer coastal lowlands. However, the basic design of Inca costume differed little throughout the Inca realm.
Inca Clothing Worn by Men
The style of Inca clothing differed little amongst the male population, with only the quality of the materials and the value of decorative items differentiating the social ranks. A sleeveless shirt, known as an uncu or cushma, was the main item of Inca dress. According to historian Ian Heath, this uncu “was basically rectangular in form, surviving examples having a width to length ratio of about 7:9. It was about 30 ins (76 cm) wide, reached to just above the knee in most provinces, and had slits for the head and arms.”
Beneath this tunic was worn a breechclout, a type of loincloth consisting of two rectangular strips of material that hung down from the wearer’s waist, one in front and one behind. The two strips would often be drawn between the thighs and tied together for greater protection and modesty.
An outer garment called a yacolla was worn over the unca, particularly in the cold climate of the Andes. The yacolla was basically a blanket that could be thrown over the shoulders. While working, or dancing, the yacolla was tied over one shoulder to keep it in place. Inca men often carried a woven bag known as a chuspa. The bag hung down by the wearer’s side from a strap about the neck. The bag held such items as coca leaves, personal possessions and, when hunting or in battle, slingstones.
Inca Clothes Worn by Women
The main item of Inca clothing worn by women was a long dress known as an anaku (regional difference in style existed, with the acsu, a longer version of the male uncu, being common in some areas). The anaku reached to the wearer’s ankles and was held around the waist by a broad belt or sash called a chumpi.
A type of shawl or mantle, known as a lliclla (or manta), was worn over the shoulders. According to historian Terence D’Altroy, the mantle was “fastened with thorns or a tupu pin made of copper (bronze), silver, or gold.” The mantle was used as a carrying device during the Inca farming process and other daily tasks. As was the case throughout the empire, the materials used in the fabrication of all these items depended upon the rank of the wearer.
Sandals were the only type of footwear worn by both Inca men and women. It was not uncommon, however, for many members of society, particularly among the lower classes, to spend most of their time bare-footed. The soles of Inca sandals were made from untanned leather or woven plant fibers. According to Heath, the upper part of the sandal consisted of brightly-colored braided woolen cord.
- Ian Heath – Armies of the 16th Century (Vol 2), Foundry Books, 1999.
- Andrea M. Heckman – Woven Stories: Andean Textiles and Rituals, University of New Mexico Press, 2003.
- Terence N. D’Altroy – The Incas, Blackwell Publishing, 2002.
- Bernabé Cobo – History of the Inca Empire, University of Texas Press, 1979.