From the Taino people to the multicultural population of modern-day Puerto Rico, a large variety of clothing styles have been worn through the years by the residents of this tiny island. When you visit, check out the historical displays in forts and museums for a glimpse of the costumes from bygone eras. Should your stay coincide with a traditional festival or holiday, you may even see recreations of traditional dress yourself.
The indigenous people of Puerto Rico, the Taino, wore very little clothing, a practical strategy given the island's extremely hot and humid weather. Males of all ages wore no clothing at all, and females also went naked until adolescence or marriage, when they would start wearing simple skirts, known as "naguas." A woman in a high position, such as the wife of a chief, would wear a long nagua, all the way down to her ankles, while women of lower social status wore shorter garments. While clothing was minimal among the Taino, they practiced a good deal of body painting and adorned themselves with jewelry, such as bracelets, necklaces or earrings made from rocks, bones, feathers, shells and coral. Much of the adornment was used in accord with religious ceremonies or to indicate social status.
When the first Europeans arrived in Puerto Rico, their usual manner of dress proved far less accommodating to the local weather conditions than the Taino. Nevertheless, the Spaniards wore their traditional military uniforms, examples and illustrations of which remain on view in Puerto Rico's forts. With the rise of the slave trade, Puerto Rico's mixture of clothing styles and cultures began to demonstrate influences from the African Yoruba, Ashanti and Bantu people.
Following European arrival, Puerto Rican dress took on a heavily Spanish-influenced look. The traditional farmer, known affectionately as the "jibaro," wore a wide-brimmed hat woven from straw and a tailored cotton shirt and cotton slacks. Most farmers did not wear shoes. Women would wear long, full skirts, headscarves and a low-necked blouse. Large jewelry and hooped earrings were also typical.
Vestiges of Traditional Dress
Contemporary dress in Puerto Rico largely resembles that of any other warm-weather Western country; however, some evidence of traditional dress is apparent in both casual clothes and formal-wear. The "guayabera," a loose-fitting men's shirt, is a traditional garment that remains popular for both casual and dressy occasions. Materials used for guayaberas include cotton, linen, pineapple fibers and, in more contemporary cases, polyester. During special occasions such as weddings or festivals, it's common to see more traditional costume. One wedding tradition involves dressing a doll to match the bride and pinning souvenirs and mementos to the doll to be handed out to the wedding guests. Another occasion involving traditional dress is the quinceanera celebration, in which the 15-year-old girl being honored wears a long pastel or white gown.