Mexican Embroidered Dresses

In the Yucatan, we often saw the women and girls dressed in beautiful Mexican embroidered dresses or huipiles as they are known there. These traditional Mexican dresses for women are usually white and colourfully embroidered with glorious flowers, vines and greenery on them and they are known as Huipiles or hipiles (pronounced wee-peel).

traditional Mexican embroidered dresses Huipiles

These intricately embroidered Mexican dresses for girls and women evolved from traditional Mayan garments that in the pre-Hispanic era were known as “kub”.  The word Huipile has evolved from a Nahuatl word to denote a loose-fitting top or blouse made from two or three pieces of rectangular-shaped fabric which are joined together with ribbons, fabric inserts or simply stitched.  There is an opening for the head and arms and they can be simply or elaborately decorated.

market lady in the Yucatan selling vegetables and wearing a traditional Mexican embroidered dress

Mexican embroidered dresses  

Traditional Mexican huipiles are usually made with fabric woven on a backstrap loom and are heavily decorated with designs woven into the fabric, embroidery, ribbons, lace and more. The length of the huipile will vary from a short waist-length garment to a tunic that reaches the floor.

A lady dancing with an embroidered circle skirt the skirt is white with fabulously coloured embroidery and the top is black with lots of coloured flowers embroidered on it

Mayan traditions – embroidering the huipile

According to historians, Mayans were embroidering with maguey thorns, or with thin feathers, as their needles. Yucatecan embroideries date from pre-Hispanic times, as proven by the discovery of pieces of embroidered garments at the bottom of Chichen-Itza’s sacred well. The traditional Mexican dress name here is the Yucatan is Huipile.

chichen itza at night with a full moon and the building lit up with blue lights

These embroideries were made using the “chuy cab” or satin-stitch technique.  Several types of embroidery are used and the most beautiful and labour-intensive is the “xocbichuy” or cross-stitch, which is done by hand.

White dresses with Mexican embroidery

You may see white on-white embroidery which is similar to the Hardanger style in which the motifs are traditionally shaped such as squares, triangles, circles and so on, the threads can also be pulled together to leave open work areas.

dressed in traditional mexican embroidered dresses at the square. Two elderly ladies are enjoying the sunshine on a park bench

Spanish Conquest and the Mexican embroidered dresses

The Spanish Conquest brought metal needles to the Yucatan and the nuns that came along with the conquest established schools and taught European-style embroidery techniques such as the cross-stitch called “xocbichuy” which means “to count” in Mayan.

close up of Mexican embroidery this is a cross stitch pattern

Contemporary designs have four basic forms: diamonds, which symbolize the earth and sky as a unity; undulating forms, like snakes, which symbolize the fertile earth; forms with three vertical lines, which symbolize the foundation of the world, the community, and its history; and representational figures, such as toads (the musicians of the rain) and patron saints.

A market day where a woman is selling Mexican embroidered dresses underneath a tree.

The special occasion dress is called the terno, which means it has three pieces: the jubon is the first piece and it is a flat square piece that is very richly embroidered and trimmed with lace, it is attached to the neck of the second piece which is the actual huipile. 

close up of embroidery of colourful flowers on a Mexican embroidered dress traditionally worn in the Yucatan

The huipile is a knee-length square dress richly embroidered and has a deep lace hem.  The third piece is the fustan which is a long, slip worn under the hipil also embroidered and lace-trimmed.  The dress is accessorized with white or embroidered shoes, filigree necklaces of gold and coral, a headdress of ribbons and flowers, and a “rebozo de Santa Maria” or shawl which matches the embroideries.

A Mexican embroidered dress is a beautiful gift to bring home to someone. These dresses are found all over Mexico and each region has their own style of embroidery and various dress designs.

A Mexican woman poses in a white hat with a pink ribbon and flowers in her hair. On her ears are large gold earrings and she has very heavy gold necklaces on. The dress is elaborate embroidered with flowers and it is a Huipile a Mexican embroidered dress.

Mexican dresses for women of all sizes and lengths and levels of detail are available for purchase all over the Yucatan.  A simple backstrap woven huipile will cost in the range of $30, whereas a very simple machine embroidered one will be around $15.  A beautiful hand-embroidered full Terno could cost in the range of $1000 or more depending on the level of quality.

A Mexican women sits with her back to the photographer she is at a loom weaving textiles for clothing. The loom is quite long and is a lap loom. Hung either side of the loom are beautiful embroidered cloths for dresses.

As for keeping your Huipiles white here is a tip passed on from some Facebook friends

“They soak their white clothes in water with polegia and soak for 1 hour then with white soap Jabon Zote they wash them in a washtub.  You never use bleach or put them in the washing machine.”  

Polegia a detergent used in Mexico for cleaning the beautifully embroidered dresses.

Polegia is a laundry whitener that contains bicarbonato de sodio, cloruro de sodio and sulfato de sodio to add to boost your detergent’s cleaning power,  and Jabon Zote is a pure soap made from the following:  Zote oil and tallow and coconut oil scented with citronella. Other ingredients include sodium chloride, glycerin, perfume, optical brightening and dying. Jabon Zote is also reputed to be a great mosquito repellent, fishing bait and much more apparently.

What are those gorgeous Mexican embroidered dresses called?

These are some of the shops in Merida that you can find huipiles to purchase.

Lucas Galvez Market – main centre Merida

Casa de las Artesanías
Calle 63 between 64 and 66 Centro

Want to learn more about the Yucatan area of Mexico and possibly living there check out these links

Living the ex-pat life in Chuburna on the Emerald Coast

Visiting Merida the White City

What’s it like to live in Chelem? Retiring to Mexico & living in the Yucatan

Merida tours the best day trips from Merida Mexico

14 Must Do’s in Merida | Things to do in Merida the safest city in Mexico

Dzibilchaltun a Cenote and Mayan Site in Merida Mexico

The Phenomenal Mayan Ruins of Uxmal

Mysterious Aluxes the little people of Mexico Mayan Legends

The secret Templo de los Falos at Uxmal Mexico

The food of Oaxaca

What to drink in Mexico

Street food in the Yucatan

Beautiful Campeche Mexico a cotton candy coloured town

Interested in more pin it for later

What are those gorgeous Mexican embroidered dresses called?


  • Faith was born in Ireland raised in Canada and has lived in over 10 countries in Europe including England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Northern Ireland, Wales, along with Mexico, Antigua, the US and has slow travelled to over 40 countries around the world. Graduating with a degree in Anthropology and Women's Studies Faith is a student of history, culture, community and food and has written about these topics for over 40 years.

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