The true origin of the Baja hoodie
There is an assumption that the Baja hoodie, also known as the Mexican hoodie, Mexican jacket, or Mexican sweater, originated in Mexico due to the abundant supply and variety of the product in towns and cities along the U.S. border. United States and Mexico. Vendors in these areas use the stereotypical image to market their wares to tourists. Hypothetically, an indecisive tourist at the end of their trip to Mexico wants to buy a souvenir that symbolizes culture, diversity, and foreign lands, and will often settle on a serape blanket or Baja hoodie. And so the misperception is perpetuated that the low hoodie represents Mexico and all that it stands for.
Perhaps the detour is in the name. The word low may suggest that the place of origin is Baja, Mexico. Actually, low is a descriptive word for the material of the jacket. Baja is synonymous with another Spanish word, flannel, whose literal translation into English is flannel, suggesting the characteristic multicolored and criss-cross designs. Flannel more traditionally means fine woven wool or cotton. Therefore, the word low describes the nature of the fabric and the decorative design of the jacket, not the location.
Why then is the Baja Hoodie sold in Mexico? The truth is that the low jacket made its way through Mexico, but it did not originate there. Its origins go back to the indigenous peoples of Central and South America. It is a derivative ancestor or fashion of the poncho.
An indigenous group in southern Chile, for example, called the Mapuche can be linked to the advent of the poncho. The poncho has a rectangular shape with a hole in the center for the wearer’s head. The Mapuche found a practical use for the poncho as the simplistic design served a protective function in windy and rainy climates by reducing exposure to the elements in that region. Some of the oldest archaeological finds of textiles or fabrics with complex designs and patterns were found in cemeteries in Chile and Argentina in 1300 AD, in areas where the Mapuche prospered.
Camel hair was the main material used to create the fabrics to make the cloth. Later European settlers introduced sheep to the natives. The indigenous people began to raise sheep and weave their thicker wool into the material to make the poncho. Wool and cotton became the material of choice and characteristically defined the poncho as warm and durable.
The simplicity and practicality of the poncho magnified its popularity and use throughout the region. As it spread geographically, it naturally evolved into several useful variations of protective jackets, including what we now know as the Baja Hoodie, which sports a hood and accessory sleeves with a front pouch. Perhaps the evolution of the poncho to the hoodie parallels the invention of our modern Snuggie, a blanket with sleeves. Someone possibly thought, “wouldn’t it be nice if I could keep this thing warm and have better use of my hands?” What was not lost in translation or evolution was precisely what is described in its name, the meaning of the material. And that’s why there’s still a demand for Baja hoodies today, because they’re woven with material to be durable, comfortable, and warm, while maintaining what made them relatively simple and practical all those years ago.