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What is a Peruvian Poncho?

B. Koch
B. Koch

The Peruvian poncho is a part of traditional Peruvian men’s dress. It is a type of outer garment that is used to keep the wearer warm and shield him from rain. Usually these garments are hand woven from alpaca wool, and their decorations can have symbolic meaning.

Peruvian ponchos are a type of outerwear, such as a jacket or sweater might be. It is typically square, with a hole in the middle for the wear’s head. The garment then lays loose around the body, with no further shaping or seaming. Traditionally the Peruvian poncho is decorated with geometric designs on a red background.

Alpaca wool is typically used to make Peruvian ponchos.
Alpaca wool is typically used to make Peruvian ponchos.

These garments are especially important in the Peruvian Andes. In the mountains at high altitudes temperatures can be very cold, even during the summer months. Wearing a Peruvian poncho made from alpaca or another type of wool can keep the wearer warm. It can also be used as a way to shield from rain, important during Peru’s rainy season.

It is believed that the Peruvian poncho originated in the 17th century. It is part of traditional Peruvian dress, and is especially worn during important ceremonies and festivals. Dark wool pants with a woven belt and shirt traditionally accompany the poncho. During ceremonies and festivals a woolen waist coat may also be included, which can be highly decorated. In cold or rainy weather, a knitted hat with earflaps may be worn.

These garments can have specific symbolic traits. The Peruvian poncho might be decorated with a variety of different designs, sometimes meant to designate the specific regions or district the wearer is from. In some regions men may wear specifically red ponchos during festivals.

Ponchos are traditionally hand woven. Weaving is an important traditional craft in Peru, and many garments are made from hand-woven fabrics. Usually the Peruvian poncho is made from alpaca wool. Alpacas are native to South America and their wool produces an especially soft fabric, so it is no surprise that alpaca is such a popular material for ponchos. It is also not uncommon for ponchos to be made of llama or sheep wool.

Women traditionally do not wear the Peruvian poncho, but instead are known for their hand woven skirts that, much like men’s garments, are highly decorated. It is not uncommon for Peruvian women to wear a number of skirts at once, creating a layered effect. Hats are often worn as well, but the style varies by region.

Discussion Comments


I wonder why Peruvians decided on a winter poncho for their traditional dress, instead of a sweater like people in the British Isles? It seems to me like a sweater would make a lot more sense! I assume anyone who is in the Andes needs to keep warm, and will probably be working outside.

I think a sweater allows for a lot larger range of motion while still keeping warm than a poncho does.


@JaneAir - Are you Peruvian? It doesn't sound like it! So how would you know if people in Peru are offended by people who aren't Peruvian wearing a Peruvian poncho cape?

Truthfully, I have no idea if people in Peru would be offended by Americans wearing their traditional clothing.

However, (and this is just my uninformed opinion) I think it would actually be great if *authentic* Peruvian ponchos came into fashion in the US. It could create a great cottage industry in Peru and maybe help some Peruvian families.

But honestly, I don't see these warm, brightly colored ponchos becoming fashionable in the United States. Maybe in certain parts of the country, but not throughout the entire nation.


In my opinion, Peruvian alpaca ponchos should only be worn by people for whom it has cultural significance. So, only Peruvian men!

I've noticed a disturbing trend in the US for, well, as long as I've been alive. And that's the appropriation of other people's cultures for fashion. People in the United States wear traditional African prints and have no clue what they mean! Ditto on plaid! I think the whole thing is ridiculous and disrespectful!

So hopefully next time ponchos come into fashion in the US, we'll leave the Peruvians alone and create something distinctly American!

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    • Alpaca wool is typically used to make Peruvian ponchos.
      By: acceleratorhams
      Alpaca wool is typically used to make Peruvian ponchos.