Native American Clothes

Prior to European colonization, Native American clothes varied from tribe to tribe and some tribes and entire tribal nations were identifiable by their garments. Many articles of clothing were reserved for different purposes and certain pieces of Native American clothes were reserved for ceremonial occasions and others for war.

Animal skin, especially deer hide was vital to the Native Americans for making clothing. While blankets were sometimes cloth woven, Native American clothes were almost exclusively made of hides. Though men were responsible for hunting and killing the animals, women were responsible for making the clothes.

Traditional Native American clothes for everyday wear were different for men and women. Most Native American men wore breechclouts, which are the flaps of hide hung from the front and back of a belt worn around the waist. In some tribes, men wore leggings with their breechclouts, especially in colder weather. Except for hunting and ceremonial or war times, Native American men seldom wore shirts. Their headdresses were indicators of their status in the tribe. Men wore their hair long in most tribes, except the Mohawk tribe, where men generally shaved the sides of their heads.

The traditional Native American clothes for women consisted of either skirts or one-piece dresses made from animal hide. Women would often dye the hide and adorn it with ornamentation such as beads or feathers. Some tribes required their women to wear their hair differently depending on their marital status and availability. Women did not always wear shirts, except publicly.

Children wore clothing similar to that of adults, except when they were very young. Infants were wrapped in papooses and carried on the backs of their mothers. Very young children who were too old to be carried might not wear any clothes at all in warm weather.

In the winter months in areas where it was cold, it was common to wear fur parkas or cloaks for extra warmth. Almost all Native Americans wore moccasins of some sort. When the European colonization was underway, many Native American tribes began to move closer and closer together and the traditional Native American clothes of different tribes began to mingle with the clothing style of other tribes. As the tribes mingled more frequently, they would trade methods and ideas for different articles of clothing.

Today, most Native American clothes are the same as modern American and Canadian styles. Except for modern tribal ceremonies held on reservations and other special occasions, the traditional Native American clothes are seldom worn. Elders in the tribes might wear the traditional clothes more often, especially chiefs. When traditional clothes are worn today, they are still adorned with bear claws, beads, and feathers and other ornamentation that signify something of importance or value.

Women in some tribes today still sew clothing in the fashion of traditional Native American clothing and sell it through various channels. Moccasins remain popular shoes even today.

Joseph Paige 2006

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