Native American Clothing

Native American Clothing

When most of us think of Native American clothing, we think of moccasins or leather coats with ribbons and beads. But the truth of the matter is that much of what we believe to be Native American clothing is simply what evolved after the arrival of the Europeans. Authentic Native American clothing is quite different from what accept as true.

At one time, Native American clothing was so distinct that each tribe had its own clothing style. In fact, one could discern which tribe a person belonged to by his clothes and accessories. Today, traditional Native American clothing is usually only worn for special occasions like powwows. The attire is now referred to as ‘regalia’.

Mukluks and Moccasins

There are a number of common features in Native American clothing that can be found among the majority of tribes. Most men for example, wore a breechcloth which was tucked into a belt. In colder climates, the men wore leggings along with the breechcloth. Shirts were rarely worn, except for special war shirts. The women usually wore skirts and leggings along with tunics. Some distinct styles of Native American clothing can be seen in pieces like the single piece buckskin dresses worn by the Cheyenne women. With regard to footwear, most Native Americans wore light moccasins or the heavier mukluks in cold weather.

After the arrival of the Europeans, many tribes were forced into contact and began to borrow each other’s clothing styles. They also borrowed from the European costumes and what evolved is what many mistakenly refer to as traditional Native American clothing. These pieces are in fact a fusion of many different styles, such as jingle dresses, beaded jackets and patchwork shirts.

The preparation of many Native American clothing pieces, particularly the leather ones was often a time consuming affair, sometimes taking as long as 40 hours to just prepare the hide. However, this hard work reflected a sense of resourcefulness and kinship the Native Americans felt with the animals, since they believed each and every part of the animal should be used well and with respect.