History
Both Spain and the pre–Hispanic Andes were highly stratified societies and rigid sumptuary laws regulated what their members could wear. Such codes defined the visual markers of class–elaborate cloth on elites, simply woven cloth for common bodies. By the late 16th century, silk was available for purchase in urban centers across Spanish America; in Quito, silk cloth was most likely imported from Asia or Spain. This document tells of the tensions between the Andean elite—whose pre–Hispanic prerogatives included the wearing of elegant woven garments—and local Spanish officials, who, as the document recounts, tried to force native Andeans to wear only simple cotton.
Visual Culture
In Spanish America, clothing was a prime marker of status and privilege, one of the reasons that elites, be they Creoles or natives, wear elaborate garments in portraits like those found in the Vistas gallery. Across the colonial period, the visual qualities and expense of different fabrics would have been easily recognized by a larger public: no other fiber can produce the sheen of silk; lace was always labor–intensive, as was brocade. It is not surprising, then, to find such fabrics on display in urban settings, especially on feast days. Nor is it surprising that Spaniards, wanting to visually mark their place at the top of the social hierarchy, would try to monopolize the right to wear them.

However, native Andeans fought for similar prerogatives, and absorbed foreign fabrics like silk into their own elaborate clothing. This excerpt makes it clear that by the 16th century, indigenous weavers, who traditionally used camelid and cotton fiber, had added luxurious silk to their textile repertoire to create anacos (an indigenous–style woman's skirt or dress, made of a length of uncut fabric) and llicllas (an indigenous–style shawl) as well as Spanish–style shirts and mantles to be worn by indigenous people of high status.







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