Puebla Dress, Mexican Peasant Dress, China Poblana History
My research on the origins of the traditional peasant dress of Mexico
The traditional folkwear of various nations has always been a subject of great interest to me, but
I must share that it has not been easy to research the Mexican peasant dress. Even using both English
and Spanish search terms, all of the stories and accounts seem to conflict with one another regarding
the origins of this wonderful, colorful garment. However, I am eager to share with you what I have
learned, and also to provide you with some resources for further research of your own, if you are
interested in the history of the Mexican Peasant Dress.
Getting our Clothing Vocabulary Straight
The biggest challenge is that there seems to be no one agreed-upon term for this garment. My Google
searches for information took a curvy route that ended up encompassing various permutations of all of the following keyword
- Mexican Peasant Dress
- Puebla Dress
- Mexican Folk Dress
- Mexican Folklorico Dress
- China Poblana
- Campesina Dress
- Vestido tipico de Mexico
- Trajes Tipicos
- Boho Dress
Rightly or wrongly, people are calling this garment all of these things, but my study has
revealed some of the distinctions:
The China Poblana
The most information is to be found on this folk costume because of the amazing legend attached
to it. Again, accounts don't exactly agree with each other, but the basic story is this. In the
early 17th century, a girl from China, Mongolia, the Philippines, or India was brought to Puebla, Mexico by the
Spaniards as a slave. The unfortunate girl, whose name was Mirrha, was apparently bought by
a man named Miguel de Sosa. Sosa had Mirrha baptized and given the Christian, Spanish name
Catarina de San Juan. Upon the death of Sosa and his wife, Mirrha married Domingo Suárez. Oddly,
Suárez was the Chinese servant of a local priest, and this fact seems to have added to the
legend that Mirrha was Chinese, though as I've said, there is belief that she may have come from
some other eastern country.
According to the legend of the China Poblana, Mirrha refused to dress like the locals and
maintained the dress of her distant homeland. The fashion caught on, and soon native women were
copying her distinctive style of dress. This dress consisted of an embroidered, short sleeved
blouse, a long, full skirt and shawl. For an image of this costume, see this article on the
From a website on the Traditions of Mexico:
Catarina de San Juan (1609-1688) is believed buried at the Templo
de la Compañia. The Museo Casa del Alfeñique exhibits China Poblana
costumes and a local restaurant is named Las Chinas de Puebla. There
is also a monument to La China Poblana at the intersection of Boulevard
Heroes del 5 de Mayo and Avenida Defensores de La Republica.
It may well be that the indigenous peoples of the region were already dressing like this, but
the legend of Mirrha (Catarina de San Juan) is much beloved and is credited as the truth by
many Hispanic people.
The blouse worn as part of the China Poblana costume does, indeed, resemble the Mexican Peasant
dress featured on this website, with it's short, puffed sleeves and lavish embroidery. However,
the addition of a skirt makes the ensemble different, and my search revealed that, in order to
find dresses like my Mexican dress, I needed to word things differently.
The Puebla Dress / Mexican Peasant Dress / Boho Dress
It is by searching for these terms that the Internet user begins to find
dresses like the one featured here at themexicandress.com. Puebla is a city
in Mexico that is associated with Mexico's victorious second war of independence. Apart
from being known as the birthplace of the China Poblana dress, it is known today as
a fine center for traditional Mexican handcrafts. Enter: the Puebla Dress. I have been
unable to determine what, exactly, these dresses are called in Spanish, in Mexico. However,
American importers most certainly call dresses like mine Puebla Dresses, whether
they come from Puebla or some other part of Mexico. Both Puebla Dresses and
Puebla Blouses (like those worn as part of the China Poblana costume) feature
short sleeves, a loose fit and beautiful embroidery.
Puebla Dresses can be purchased both for ladies and children, and though white
seems to be the most common color, you will find them in every hue of the rainbow
if you are lucky enough to go on a shopping trip to Mexico. The best dresses are made
of 100% cotton with hand embroidery.
It would appear that ladies in the U.S. took a shine to the folk clothing
of Mexico back in the 1940's and 1950's, perhaps because it was popularized
by movies depicting wild west haciendas and the like, and I have come across
references to Mexican-themed dress patterns from these eras. Additionally, all things
'Latin' had been romanticized since the Jazz Age when posh U.S. nightclubs featured
Latin themes, and Jazz music began to incorporate musical elements from South America
and Cuba. For example, famed trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's percussionist was the great
Chano Pozo of Cuba. Influences like these became a part of the American consciousness
and all things 'south of the border' were imbued with an air of sun-drenched mystery.
And then came the 1960's and a demand for more comfortable, natural clothing. Americans
again looked to their southern neighbors for direction and the Puebla Dress found great
favor and a new name - the Boho Dress. 'Boho Dress' is a term still being used to describe
traditional Puebla dresses and vintage garments of this kind from the 60's and 70's can bring
in rather high prices at auctions. As the author, I have to add, why not make your own
for a few dollars? Though you can
still find some Mexican dresses in good condition, many vintage garments are the worse for wear
and you may be disappointed in your purchase of a Boho dress from the 1960's. However, it is
the scarcity of these garments that makes them so sought after today, and that is why I developed
my instruction booklet to help women who want to sew their own classic Mexican Peasant Dress.
It's nice not to have to depend
on retailers and auctions in order to own one of these ideal summer dresses.
Today, these dresses are still in style, and as I've discovered, people are trying to search
the Internet creatively in an attempt to find one. Mexican Peasant Dress, Puebla Dress and
Boho Dress are the terms that seem to be standing the test of time and I have been really
delighted to see the continued appreciation for this historic garment.
Other terms that may confuse the searcher
Huipil: The Huipil is the term for the beautiful Mayan blouse woven by indigenous women
in southern Mexico and parts of South America. The loose fit of this garment is somewhat akin
to the Puebla blouse, but the woven fabric and folk motifs make it quite distinct.
Mexican Folkloric Dress:
Searches for this can be fun, but will not lead you to the simple, summer dress featured on
this website. Rather Mexican Folkloric Dresses are the costumes used by traditional folk dancers
and they are very fancy with full, tiered skirts. It's interesting to note that, often, the
upper portion of the dress does resemble the Puebla blouse, but the circle skirt appears to be
more of a nod to the China Poblana.
What I've learned from my study of traditional Mexican women's clothing
The folk costume that is the origin of today's Mexican peasant dress has been around since
at least the 1600's, and may well be older than this. For centuries, Mexican women have used
their skills to embellish simple garments in such a way that they become true works of art. North
American women have been admirers of the comfort and beauty of the folk garments of Mexico for
nearly a century now, and this garment will likely always be in style.
Please, consider carrying on this rich tradition by sewing your own Mexican Puebla dress (shown right) with
the help of my simple, downloadable instruction booklet. It is suitable for beginning seamstresses
and you won't believe just how easy it is.
Price: $5.00 per PDF download
Read more about my instruction booklet here »
If you'd like to learn more about the Puebla Dress or China Poblana:
I have assembled the following short list of links that I made a note of during my research.
Some of these websites are in English and some are in Spanish: