No surfer’s backpack is complete without their version of a trusty poncho. History's shown that as long as humans are around, it seems like a safe bet that a poncho will be too.
A Poncho in Machu Picchu
(Say that five times fast.) The poncho’s origins are somewhere high in the misty cloud forests of the Andes. Traces of ponchos have been found in pre-Incan burial sites, suggesting they’re truly one of the earliest pieces of clothing ever created. With just a large piece of hearty fiber, cut with a simple hole for the head, you’re suddenly protected from the elements in one of the most efficient ways possible. No wonder they caught on.
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Woven into Cultures
Ponchos spread across South America, leaving their mark in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. Wherever they went, they took on characteristics from the people who wove and wore them. Even today, popular expressions like ‘don’t tread on my poncho’ and ‘where the Devil lost his poncho’ are part of its enduring symbolism. Traditional ponchos are still worn across South America and are a key part of many cultures.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Ponchos blew north during the Western expansion of the 1800s on the backs of banditos and cowboys who loved its practicality and comfort. On the western plains of the United States, a garment based on a poncho was used by US military forces, and even found its way into the American Civil War, used not only for battle against the elements but also as a ground sheet for sleeping. Since then, variations on the poncho have been seen in armies worldwide.
Photo by Ullstein Bild/Getty Images
In the 1930s and ‘40s when California surfers rode down to Baja they discovered the ideal sweater to throw on at sunset. Inspired by thick Mexican blankets, these Baja jackets were rugged, warm, and often designed with local patterns and colors. They evolved from the poncho, but now featured a front pocket, hood and drawstrings. Their ease and vibe fit right into surf culture and they've become an enduring coastal staple.
Photo by David Scott
As the SoCal spirit spread across the states, the Baja-style poncho got swept into the wave, moving in and out of surf, hippie, stoner, and counter cultures with nicknames like the ‘drug rug,’ and the ‘Mexican threads hoodie’ that often featured trippy patterns and stripes. For such a humble garment, the poncho flows easily between high fashion and the beach.
At Outerknown, ponchos and pullovers have been part of our style since day one, and for Fall 2017, we use only the softest and most sustainable Peruvian Alpaca and Organic Cotton to take our Atlas Poncho and Outpost Pullover to new stratospheres of chill.