Native American Clothing: What Native Americans Wore?

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Native American Clothing: What Native Americans Wore?

Long before the Western Europeans set foot in the vast North America, Native Americans already have their clothing styles that were influenced by utility more than fashion and artistry. Almost every tribe had its own unique style of dress, and usually tribe members could be distinguished by simply looking at their traditional clothing, ornamentation, and headdresses. The clothing style would eventually change with the arrival and influence of Western Europeans.

Native Americans made use of indigenous materials that were available to their tribes. Many tribes used animal hides for their clothing, which they used when hunting. Other tribes like the Iroquois and Cherokee used deerskin. While the Inuit from Alaska used caribou or seal skin, and the Plains Indians wore buffalo skin. Other tribes such as the Apache and Navajo made clothing from weaving thread and plants. They also learned how to weave tunics and blankets. Of course, you don’t expect these woven threads to be as crease-free as the clothes we now have. Obviously, they used crude materials for ‘ironing’ their clothes as there were no steam irons at that time (here’s a link to steaming iron reviews).

Breechcloths, which were a rectangular piece of cloth or hide tucked over a belt, were common clothing worn by men in many Native American tribes. The cloth flaps fell down in front and behind to cover their genitals. During cold climates, men wear leather leggings. In some tribes, men wore fur trousers or short kilt instead the usual breechcloths. Not all Native American tribes used shirts. For instance, Plains Indian warrior had special buckskin war shirts that were decorated with intricate beadwork and quillwork as well as ermine hair and tail.

As with men, Native American women wore clothing for utility and not for fashion. Native Indian women also wore skirts and leggings, but the design, length and material varied depending on the tribe. Women’s shirt was optional for many tribes and used them more like coats. In other tribes, American Indian dresses were one-piece clothing that was worn overhead.

For the footwear, nearly all tribes used mukluk (a heavy boot) or a moccasin (a sturdy leather shoe). The designs and styles of the footwear varied depending on the tribe. There were also additional clothes that were used on certain occasions or climates. For instance, many tribes wore cloaks during cold climates, while some northern tribes used fur parkas. The tribes differ greatly in terms of formal clothing and headgear, which were different in every tribe. Usually, headgear complimented the hairstyles of the natives.

A dramatic evolution in the clothes of Native Americans was seen after colonization. While the colonizers did not bring technologically advanced equipment, such as a flat iron or even a one of Rowenta steam irons, the colonizer’s culture and fashion sense has greatly influenced the Native American’s clothing style. Native Indians started to adapt some European design styles into their own designs. Aside from this, there was also mingling among the different Indian tribes. As they were forcibly evicted from their lands, the natives were also forced to live close to each other resulting in the merging of tribal dress styles. Post-colonial native dresses were reflective of the colonizer’s clothing style. Fashion became the main driver of new clothing styles. Soon, the Native Indian clothes such as headdresses, breechcloths, leggings and dance shawls became decorative, often worn only during religious ceremonies and powwows. Native American Indians used regalia for traditional clothes there were worn only on special, ceremonial occasions.

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