Last Look | Summer's Secret Weapon

Glamorous, exotic, breezy, and keeper of secrets like no bikini ever was, this year’s summer must-have is the huipil.

The casually cool but exquisitely made huipil, a traditional dress worn in Mexico and Central America, does the caftan one better. The place to get them is JM Drygoods (215 South Lamar), the South Austin shop offering carefully curated clothing and home goods from around the globe. Several years ago, on a buying trip in Oaxaca City, shop owner Michelle Teague stumbled across a blouse so beautiful that she set off into the mountains to find its maker. The blouse was soft and gauzy, with billowy sleeves and a yoke embroidered intricately in a geometric pattern, so fine it spoke of generations of craftsmanship.

What she discovered in a village called San Vicente Coatlán, was women producing clothing with time-polished skill, using intricately embroidered designs passed down over centuries. The women of San Vicente work in a distinctive style: one piece can take months to complete on a traditional loom. Threatened with globalization and a young generation leaving for the cities, the knowledge required to create these pieces is in danger of becoming obsolete. As Teague poked around San Vicente, it wasn’t long before she met with Remigio Mestes Revilla, a champion of indigenous textile design, with galleries throughout the region representing the work of these talented weavers. Teague purchased several blouses for the shop, and began conversations with Mestes about expanding his audience.

Back in Austin, a representative from Madewell stopped by the shop, scouting for their line of “Labels We Love,” and fell just as hard for the San Vicente textiles. Teague worked with Mestes to put together a cooperative of 75 weavers and embroiderers; the group made 400 blouses for Madewell, which sold out immediately. More work will be coming to Madewell from the JM Drygoods/Mestes collaboration in 2015, but in the meantime, we can still find the blouse that started it all in the shop on South Lamar.

The huipil is made from white cotton woven on a backstrap-loom, hand-sewn and hand-washed after construction.

Designs are hand-embroidered with vibrant threads traditionally dyed with cochineal, black sapote, marigold, Indigofera, or sea snail.

Tassels on the front and back over the heart represent protection and power.

The dress design is deceptively simple—the expert weave of the soft fabric creates a universally flattering drape and fit.


Photography by Kate Lesueur

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