The True Origin of the Baja Hoodie

An assumption exists that the Baja Hoodie, also known as the Mexican Hoodie, Mexican Jacket, or Mexican Pullover, originated from Mexico because of the abundant supply and variety of the product in towns and cities along the U.S.-Mexican border. Vendors in these areas use the stereotypical image to market their products towards tourists. Hypothetically, an indecisive tourist at the end of vacating to Mexico wants to purchase a souvenir to symbolize the culture, diversity, and foreign lands, and will often settle on a serape blanket or Baja Hoodie. And so the misperception is perpetuated that the baja hoodie represents Mexico and all it stands for.

Perhaps the misguidance is in the name. The word baja may suggest that the location of origin is Baja, Mexico. In reality, baja is a descriptive word for the material of the jacket. Baja is a synonym for another Spanish word, franela, whose literal translation to English is flannel, suggesting the characteristic multicolored, crossed-patterned designs. Franela more traditionally means fine-twined wool or cotton. Therefore, the word baja describes the nature of the fabric and decorative design of the jacket not the location.

Why is the Baja Hoodie then sold in Mexico? The truth is, the baja jacket did make its way through Mexico but it did not originate there. Its origins can be traced to the indigenous people of Central and South America. It is a derivative or fashion ancestor to the poncho.

An indigenous group in Southern Chile, for example, called the Mapuche can be linked to the advent of the poncho. The poncho garners a rectangular shape with a hole in the center for the head of the wearer. The Mapuche found practical use of 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 archeological finds of textiles or fabrics with complex designs and patterns were found in cemetery sites in Chile and Argentina in 1300 AD, in areas where the Mapuche thrived.

Camel hair was the primary material used to create the weaves to make the fabric. Later, colonizing Europeans introduced sheep to the natives. The indigenous people began breeding sheep and weaving their thicker wool into the material to assemble the poncho. Wool and cotton became the preferred material 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 dawns an accessory hood and 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. Conceivably, someone thought, “wouldn’t it be nice if I could keep this warm thing on and have better use of my hands?” What wasn’t lost in translation or evolution was the very thing that describes it in its name, the significance of the material. And that’s why there is still a demand for Baja Hoodies today, because they’re woven with material to be durable, comfortable, and warm while still maintaining what made their relatives simplistic and practical so many years ago.