Headwear of Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas

Early Central and South Americans cared for their hair by washing, combing, and styling it. Atop their carefully styled hair, Mayan, Aztec, and Inca men and women wore hats and headdresses of many different styles.

Montezuma II, Emperor of Mexico, wearing an elaborate feathered headdress. Some of these headdresses were crafted to look like the head of a jaguar, snake, or bird. Courtesy of the .

Elite Mayan men and women styled their hair to show off their pointed heads, crafted through the careful head flattening they experienced as children. Women gathered their long hair on top of their heads in flowing ponytails. For special occasions they braided their ponytails and decorated them with ornaments and ribbons. Mayan men grew their hair long but burnt the hair off their foreheads to accentuate their elongated profiles. They would bind their hair into one or many ponytails or tie it in a bundle on top of their head. Mayan slaves had their hair cut short as one visible mark of their inferior status. In addition to their carefully styled hair, wealthy Mayan men added elaborate feathered headdresses. Some of these headdresses were crafted to look like the head of a jaguar, snake, or bird and were covered with animal skin, teeth, and carved jade.

Aztecs cut their hair in different styles according to their rank in society. Most Aztec men wore their hair with bangs over their forehead and cut at shoulder length in the back. They plucked their sparse facial hair. Most Aztec women wore their hair long and loose, but did braid it with ribbons for special occasions. However, warriors wore their hair in ponytails and often grew scalplocks, long locks of hair that were singled out in a decorated braid or ponytail. Courtesans, or women who were companions to warriors, wore their hair cut short at the nose level, dyed with black mud, and shined with an indigo dye.

Both Inca men and women valued long hair. Long hair was so important in Inca society that cutting the hair was considered a punishment for some crimes. Inca women rarely cut their hair and wore it neatly combed, parted it in the middle, and sometimes twisted it into two long braids secured with brightly colored woolen bands. Some women tied colorful bands around their foreheads. Wealthy Inca women covered their heads with cumbi cloth, a richly woven fabric, folded in a specific way to sit on top of the head. Inca men wore their dark hair long in the back with a fringe of bangs across their foreheads.


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