Native American Clothing

Long before the white man set foot on American soil, the American Indians, or rather the Native Americans had been living there. And during this stay, they made a ground for themselves as authentic artists and craftsmen, which include clothing and tattooing.

You have hit the right place if you are searching for information on traditional native American clothing, which is regarded as a part of the American history and culture today.

Clothing was generally made of natural fibers, deerskins, buckskin, feathers from eagle and porcupine quills embellished with beads. The Native Americans were masters in the field of weaving and beadwork. Later as the land became colonized, the ethnic clothing was invaded by European influence and the wooden beads graduated to glass beads.

If you are thinking that style and fashion was non-existent in those days, then you are grossly mistaken! Nearly every Native American tribe had a distinctive dressing style, and looked no less than Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt. They wore ornaments, headdresses, moccasins, belts, fur jackets and clothing, which helped to separate a tribe’s identity.

Native American men wore breechclouts or breechcloths, which is a long rectangular piece of hide or cloth tucked over a belt, so that the flaps fell down in front and behind, sometimes with leather leggings attached during winters. In some tribal communities men wore short kilts or fur trousers too. Warriors had special war shirts decorated with ermine tails, hair, and intricate quillwork and beadwork.

Well! How can women stay behind? The Native American women wore skirts and leggings, though the length, design, and material of the skirts varied from tribe to tribe. Some always wore tunics or mantles in public, while few considered it optional and treated it as a coat. Cheyenne buckskin, is a one piece dress worn by some section of tribe even today.

Coming to footwear now, nearly every Native American had some form of moccasin (a sturdy leather shoe) or mukluk (heavier boot), with style differing from tribe to tribe.

It was after colonization that the clothing began to change. Such post-colonial native dress included beaded jackets and shirts, ribbon shirts, Seminole patchwork skirts, satin shawls, woolen sweaters, broad ribbon applique, jingle dresses, and the Cherokee tear dress.

Today Native Americans have their own style statement, but the unique American Indian clothing style still exists. Traditional Indian garments such as buckskins, ribbon dresses, and beaded moccasins, are still worn in many tribes. Others, such as breechcloth, leggings, headdress and dance shawl, are only worn at powwows.  In general, American Indians use the word "regalia" for traditional clothing, which is used for ceremonial occasions.

Native American clothing is preserved today in many museums, which reveals a blend of unique traditionalism with modernism.

Joseph Paige 2006

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