Published on June 27, 2011 by Amy
One of the largest American Indian tribes to inhabit North America, the Cherokee, and their vibrant, well-developed culture, once dominated much of the southeastern United States. Due to initial friendliness toward many European settlers and traders, who recorded observations about the tribe, much is known about traditional Cherokee culture, including extensive information on Cherokee clothing. Today, the Cherokee are the largest federally recognized tribe and have tribal headquarters in both Oklahoma and North Carolina.
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Information on Cherokee clothing suggests that in the warm months Cherokee men wore very little. Typically, Cherokee men wore moccasins and a simple breech cloth made of tanned deer hides. If the men were hunting or part of a war party and needed more protection, they often wore chaps and carried weapons in a skin belt. Winter clothing for Cherokee men included the addition of shirts made from deer skin, robes of fur, moccasins lined with fur and fur hats or turbans made from cloth or hide.
Cherokee women often wore either short skirts and draped tops or shift dresses made primarily from animal skins. In the wintertime, the recorded information on Cherokee clothing shows that women added longer underskirts and wore robes of animal fur or hide, in addition to leather moccasins that were laced up to the knee. For decoration and to indicate status within the tribe, women added colored beads and feathers to their clothing and moccasins, along with shell or bone necklaces and earrings and metal rings for their fingers.
Cherokee children, like most American Indian children living in warmer climates, did not wear any clothing for much of the year. Instead, young Cherokee children, both boys and girls, were naked if the weather permitted. Older children that had not yet reached puberty either wore skin or cloth skirts, and all children had robes and moccasins to wear during the colder months. Once Cherokee children reached puberty, they were viewed as adults and began to wear the kind of clothing appropriate for Cherokee men and women.
As with most cultures, information on Cherokee clothing shows that the Cherokee altered their dress for special events. For instance, during tribal ceremonies such as dances and weddings, the women put aside their skin dresses in favor of dresses made from mulberry root bark and turkey feathers. Men added feathers to their hair for ball games, special ceremonies and warfare, in addition to belts, anklets and wristbands made by their wives.
Hairstyles were an important part of Cherokee appearance, and much attention was given to keeping the hair well-groomed. The Cherokee often used bear grease in their hair to make it shine, and women wore their hair down or in a knot at the top of their head and sprinkled with colored dust. Cherokee men wore their hair closely cropped, except for a single ponytail at the top of their heads.