Published on March 17, 2014 by Amy
The history of the Cherokees goes back at least 11,000 years in the southeastern United States, and they are considered one of the most advanced Native American nations. The Cherokees lived in semipermanent villages and had a very organized agricultural, political and religious structure. Their culture included beautiful pottery and bows with a string so tight to kill the huge elk and bear that the Spanish could not pull them back. They also fished and raised corn, beans and squash. Their clothing was conducive to their type of life and the natural world around them.
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The Cherokee clothing would change with the seasons. In the summer, the men wore a deer-skin “breechclout” (breech cloth), which went up between the legs and tied at the waist. The ends of the skin would normally hang down to the knees in both the front and back of the body. Their moccasins had flaps on both sides to keep the ankles from being scratched by the brush. When they went hunting or on raids, they also put on leather “chaps,” which extended from their ankles to the middle of their thighs. Some of the reports from people who first met the Cherokees also say that the men wore deerskin shirts. In the winter, the Cherokees would wear fur robes. The beaver or muskrat moccasins had the fur on the inside to keep the feet warm. The men also wore beaver fur hats.
The Cherokee women wore deerskin dresses that reached the middle of their thighs. The dresses had a hand-woven belt at the waist. They also wrapped a deer-hide scarf around their necks, which was tucked into the neckline. Underneath was a woven hemp under-skirt that started at the waist and went as long as the dress. The under-skirt had long fringes that reached the ankles. The women also wore moccasins, but they came up to the knee, and were sometimes decorated with colored beads. Many women had pierced ears and wore shell or bone earrings. Some women also adorned themselves with several shell, horn or bone necklaces, as well as copper or lead rings.
According to Wendell Cochran, Cherokee master craftsman and National Living Treasure in the Area of Traditional Clothing, the Cherokees who were deported and now live in Oklahoma have an official tribal garment for women called the “Tear Dress.” The word “tear” rhymes with “wear,” or to rip, to explain how the dress is made. Originally, the dress was made of squares and rectangles of fabric that were torn, not cut. These pieces were sewn together in a shirt-waist-style dress, with a top, waistband and skirt. The front has buttons. The dress is easy to put on and comfortable to wear while doing chores. The one-piece dress was better than a skirt and top, because it allowed more movement.
For special events, such as the “stomp dances,” men and women tied shells to their ankles to make a rattling sound. Sometimes they would fill small turtle shells with pebbles to rattle with each movement. The moccasins were adorned with colored beads and dyed porcupine quills and thread. On their heads were hair ornaments made out of possum hair, which had been dyed black or in bright colors.
The Cherokee Nation was a very large structure that had many different clans, many of which had their own traditions. The peace chiefs from the long-hair clan wore a robe completely made of white feathers and white leather belt, breech clout, garters, leggings and moccasins. To top off the elaborate costume, they donned an otter-skin cap that was covered with white leather and feathers. Normally, however, the Cherokees did not wear headbands with feathers as did other Native American tribal units.