Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at Textile Society of America 11th Biennial Symposium: Textiles as Cultural Expressions, September 4-7, 2008, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Copyright © 2008 Amy Oakland


The string or grass skirt appears among the earliest known garments in the Southern Andes. Archaeologists discovered the skirts wrapped around Chinchorro ancestor figures in burials near the Pacific coast of North Chile dating to 8000 B.C. The Chinchorro people’s mummified ancestors included specific gender traits so it is clear that they wanted to identify the skirts as a female garment. Chinchorro men were equipped with leather loincloths and both apparently used twinned grass mantles, blankets, or mats.

Through time, these coastal Andeans developed an elaborate dress with enormous string turbans and pelican-skin capes, however the string skirt remained the essential garment for women. In the last period of use, string skirts must have presented an exciting, perhaps even enticing, woman’s dress with their thick, camelid-fiber cords dyed brilliant red. Even fired-clay figurines were dressed with miniature string skirts, but the garment did not continue in use past the first centuries A.D. It is possible that highland influence became too great for some coastal customs like the string skirt.

This paper discusses the development of the string or grass skirt identifying the earliest examples and especially focusing on the later styles, especially those well-preserved dyed camelid-fiber skirts excavated in Caserones in the Tarapaca Valley. In later periods of Andean prehistory the female string skirt was abandoned for the ubiquitous tunic, a woven shirt that was adopted by both sexes.