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 the towns and cities along the border between United States and Mexico. Vendors in these areas use the stereotypical image to market their products to tourists. Hypothetically, an indecisive tourist at the end of his 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 that the low-cut hoodie represents Mexico and all that it stands for is perpetuated.
Perhaps the error is in the name. The word low may suggest that the source location 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 English translation is flannel, suggesting the characteristic multi-colored designs with crossed patterns. Flannel more traditionally means fine braided 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 arrived in Mexico but it did not originate there. Its origins go back to the indigenous peoples of Central and South America. It is a derivative or fashionable ancestor of the poncho.
An indigenous group in southern Chile, for example, called the Mapuche, may be related to the arrival of the poncho. The poncho takes on 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 AD 1300, in areas where the Mapuche thrived.
Camel hair was the main material used to create the fabrics to make the cloth. Later, the colonizing Europeans introduced sheep to the natives. The indigenous people began to raise sheep and weave their thickest 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 features a hood and accessory sleeves with a front pouch. Perhaps the evolution from poncho to hoodie parallels the invention of our modern Snuggie, a blanket with sleeves. Possibly someone thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could keep this garment warm and use my hands better?” What was not lost in translation or evolution was precisely what it describes in its name, the meaning of the material. And that’s why there is still demand for Baja hoodies today, because they are knitted with material to be durable, comfortable and warm, while still maintaining what made them relatively simple and practical all those years ago.