The attire [of clothing] “was clearly intended to serve as a cover, to protect women’s virtue and ward off temptation,” explained Alicia del Aguila, a sociologist who has studied and written about the subject.
Over time, the bourgeoisie and the middle class appropriated the saya and the manto, which became a way for women to hide from unwanted male attention, cover their faces and also conceal their social rank and skin color.
The modest clothes provided “more freedom to those who wore them than ordinary women,” argued del Aguila.
Such an approach is a far cry from the controversy stirred by the veil throughout Europe, where it is seen as a sign of the perceived Muslim oppression of women.
The lower house of Parliament in France, where rundown city suburbs are home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority, has voted overwhelming to ban full Islamic veils in public spaces, and similar laws are pending in Belgium, Spain and some Italian municipalities.
But in Lima, the tapada loosened the stranglehold on women, giving women a level of greater freedom while protecting their honor.
There is no place on Earth were women have more freedom than in Lima,” Franco-Peruvian socialist and feminist Flora Tristan said in 1837 as she enthused about the women who, while covered, were free to stroll in the streets, at amphitheaters and even in Congress.