Cherokee Clothing History

Published on June 27, 2011 by Amy

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Cherokee Clothing
Native American clothing reflected
the culture and beliefs of the people

The Cherokee nation once flourished throughout the southeastern woodlands of America. Although the U.S. government evicted them from their lands when gold was discovered in Georgia, Cherokee clothing still reflects their woodland roots. Despite their tragic past, Cherokee people thrive in Oklahoma, North Carolina and elsewhere and traditional clothing arts are still treasured.

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Precolonial Clothing

Before Europeans arrived, Cherokees fashioned clothing from deer, panther, bear, otter and beaver skin. Women softened mulberry bark and wove it into fabric. Feathers provided colorful mantles for ceremonial clothing. Males wore breechclouts (loincloths), rectangular pieces of fabric pulled between the legs and flapped over a thong or strip of leather. They made pouches from deer bladders and crafted snakeskin into belts.

Both men and women donned buckskin boots. They sewed the boot seams well inside the edge and created fringe with the excess material. Women wore wraparound buckskin skirts and leggings. Swamp moccasins were made out of hide and laced with thongs.

European Influence

European colonists had a profound impact on Cherokee clothing. Cherokee men adopted linen shirts and match coats of stroud, a cheap wool. Match coats were similar to ponchos or blankets. When Cherokee ambassadors arrived in London in 1762, they wore silver gorgets, or throat-coverings, and robes edged with braiding. Beaded moccasins, silver armbands and feathers enhanced their appearance.

By the mid-1800s, stroud replaced buckskin for breachclouts and leggings. The women quickly adapted to European dress. They decorated waistcoats with shells or bead work and wore calico shirts, flounced skirts and fitted bodices.

Wampum Belts

Wampum was made up of small, cylindrical, white or purple clamshell beads that were strung for use. In precolonial times and for decades thereafter, Cherokees traded wampum for other commodities. Intricately designed wampum belts commemorated sacred or historical events. Cherokee narrators held the wampum belts as they related these tales. Wealthy Cherokees wore wampum collars with beautifully crafted depictions of people or objects in order to display their fortune. As time passed, money replaced wampum as a trading commodity and belts were relegated to decorative or ceremonial use.

Cherokee Jewelry

In precolonial times, Cherokee men slit their ears and stretched the lobes to accommodate large adornments. Women also engaged in ear piercing but to a much lesser extent. They wore clusters of pearls or beads of copper around their necks, wrists, ankles and knees.

Armbands made of silver were highly prized. The Cherokee also hammered copper kettles into thin sheets and created beads or cones. They attached the cones to the fringe of garments, to create a pleasing sound while dancing.

Bags and Masks

Cherokee bead work is painstakingly detailed. Sam Houston, the American statesman, gave President Andrew Jackson a beaded Cherokee bag to use while traveling. Early bags were decorated with seed beads. After the Cherokees arrived in Oklahoma in the 1830s, however, they began to use glass beads.

Medicine men of precolonial days wore masks while praying for a good hunt or when treating patients. Masks resembling deer, bears or other creatures of the forest were fashioned from hide or wood. Cherokee artisans still create masks today, to use during traditional ceremonies or exhibitions. These masks and all other wearable art reveal the rich history of the Cherokee people.

Source: ehow Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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