by Patricia Rieff Anawalt
The author hunted down all documents on pre-Columbian clothing she could
find. This includes a wealth of codices drawn by Maya and Aztec artists.
These codices were originally done in order to show the difference of
attires for different social hierarchies. They also functioned as manuals
for ceremonies, or "handbooks" on due garment tribute from
war prisoners. The author gives a detailed account of the "second"
discovery of these codices. After being brought to Europe, they were
often passed from hand to hand, and knowledge of their origin was lost.
They were attributed to China or Egypt. Only during the last century
has all this information been brought together. Patricia Rieff also
uses documents like the Relaciones geográficas done
by the Spaniards seventy years after conquest.
The book represents Rieff's doctoral thesis, it classifies and shows
garments of six different geographical areas in a very scientific way,
a bit dry to read, but with a wealth of attractive original drawings.
On the way, Rieff explains interesting details like the one that Aztec
armor was made mainly of cotton, but withstood arrows and axes and therefore
was in part quickly adopted by the conquistadores who appreciated the
The author also draws very interesting conclusions, one being that
Cortés got to understand the significance of clothing in ritual
Aztec warfare and used this to turn the tide of the most important battle.
One of the favorite books in my library.
(Review by David Unger)