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Where does your Mexican Dress really come from?

Posted by Montse Caloca on

Where does your Mexican Dress really come from?

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear “Mexican dress?”

Is this what you imagine?


Pic casaOtomi

I bet it is! Isn't it?

The Mexican dress is by far the most commonly searched item on Google related to Mexican clothing. They are pretty, no doubt about it.  The color, the embroidery, and the relaxed style makes it both comfortable and adds a unique style to your wardrobe.


You know its beauty, but do you know its history? If you have read my previous posts before, you know that I like to do my research to finding meanings, data, or historical facts.


What I found about the Mexican dress, first of all, is that it is not Mexican... WHAT? Lol! I'm just kidding. What I found is that their real name is San Gabriel Chilac Chanel. What? Yes, this is true, you may find them called Oaxaca dresses or Puebla dresses or just Mexican dresses, but the reality is that they are made in the Sierra Negra in the state of Puebla, in a little town named San Gabriel Chilac (very close to Oaxaca BTW) close to Tehuacan and San José Miahuatlán.


San Gabriel Chilac means donde abundan los caracolitos, (where you find a lot of snails in English) so it is not hard to guess that the basis of their economy is their embroidery. If you walk around the town, you can see women and men working with the embroidery machines or by hand.


This labor is learned generation by generation, from grandparents to grandchildren and so on.  The chileños, as they call themselves, make typical Mexican clothes like the Mexican dress (chaneles, kimonas) and the china poblana outfit.  Recently, they have become so popular that now they have started selling to other states and even to other countries.

Mexican dress embroidered


You may think, “Great! More work for them!”  But no, with popularity a problem has emerged and this is the coyote. A huge part of this problem is generated by lack of support from the government for the artisan to create a formal small business in order to export their products themselves, the majority of them need third parties. The problem with this construct is that the third party, in this case- the coyote, gets all the $$; leaving miserable profits to the artisans.

The coyotes are basically investors that comes with a lot of money buy big quantities and then go and resell it to other states and resell it to shops. Now, this a negative, but needed, cycle for the artisans to keep their work and tradition alive. This business model guarantees sales, which helps them to boost their economy.

This is why it is so important to inform yourself of where your clothes come from. The effort behind making the clothes you wear tells you a story, and there is always a cost. A cost for the society, or even for the environment. Some of these Mexican dresses are now replicated by Chinese manufacturers; each piece being made in terrible conditions for the employee and completely losing all the artisanal work.  The outsourcing not only doesn’t provide a quality product, but hurts the lives of the individuals who have dedicated their lives to their work, and who rely upon it to live.