The Ancient Mayan head dress was worn as a ceremonial and fashionable garment, as well as an element of a soldier's uniform. They were adorned with bird feathers, ususally those of the Quetzal, sewn together using colored animal hairs or plant fibres. The quetzal is native to Mesoamerica, and is coveted for its colorful and long feathers. The head dresses were meticulously hand sown by craftsmen, and often included other aesthetic elements. Animal heads were once beleived to transmit positive abilities to the wearer, and became common additions to the colored feathers, as did beads, jewlery, and other luxury items.
The head dresses were worn by both men and women of prominence. Only the wealthy and/or powerful were permitted to wear these beautiful accesories. Kings wore them to showcase power, warriors for strength and endurance in battle, and the wealthy for status.
In modern times, head dresses are still worn as celebratory or ceremonial garments. The feathers are now taken from various sources, and are synthetically colored. This has allowed for more vibrant and surprising designs, in addition to the traditional quetzal appearance. Each head dress is hand sewn, so no two are alike. Although no longer worn for official ceremonies, head dresses are an integral part of Mayan culture that is showcased to tourists.
Contemporary head dresses, although heavily evolved in appearance from the ancient ones, still contain certain elements that can be traced through history. The feather pattern and general shape of the garment has remained constant through time, even though the materials have changed.
Motifs and symbols also still remain from ancient times. The ancient Maya were fascinated with death and sacrifice, which can be seen in the animal skulls and some patches that are used today. The memory of past tradition is kept alive through this costume. The Mayan head dress serves a cultural vessel that carries the traditions of the ancients in its adornments.