The following information is taken from Insight Guide’s Peru.
Friction between Peru’s Spanish-born residents and its upper-class mestizos did more than spark the independence revolution. It also bred rivalry between women from the two camps and gave Lima its most scandalous fashion. The Spanish women enticed the men in trditional fashion, showing off their tiny waists and wafting elaborate fans. Not to be outdone, the mestizas created an alluring look of their own by covering their faces with Arab veils – except for one eye which peeked out. They were known as tapadas or “covered ones”.
Although veiled, the tapadas were far from modest. Their skirts were hiked shamelessly up to show feet tinier than those of their Spanish rivals, and necklines were lowered, while the fairer-skinned Spaniards remained covered under Lima’s strong sun, this being long before the European craze for finding suntan attractive.
“This costume so alters a woman – even her voice since her mouth is covered – that unless she is very tall or very short, lame, hunchbacked or otherwise conspicuous, she is impossible to recognize,” wrote early French feminist Flora Tristan.
The tapadas spent their afternoons strolling, and the “consequences” of their tantalizing fashion ranged from playful flirting to sinful trysts. Conspiracy was endemic in the early 19th century, and many tapadas used their afternoon walks to pass messages to organizers of the revolution, thus playing an important part in forming the nation.