Native American Indian Clothing – Leather and Beads

Published on May 18, 2014 by Amy

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Native American Indian Clothing
Native American Indian Clothing

Native American Indian Clothing – Back Then…

Most Native men did not wear a shirt, but the warriors of the Plains had decorated “war shirts” of ermine, beadwork, and quillwork.

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  • Most Indian women wore skirts and leggings, varying in design, material and length from tribe to tribe. In other tribes, women wore a one-piece dress.
  • All Native peoples wore moccasins in some form.
  • And for cold weather there were…cloaks, fur parkas, mukluks, leather leggings, and fur trousers.
  • What varied most from group to group were headgear and formal ceremonial clothing.
  • Respect of nature is foremost in the belief systems of the Native Americans. This not only includes the Earth and environment, but also animals. When Native American Indian clothing was made, they were never wasteful with animal products – they took what they needed and needed what they took. Quills from porcupines, feathers from eagles, and skins from deer were just some materials used for clothing. Whether it was leather for moccasins, fur, or quills and shells, the animals that gave their lives for human use were to be treated with respect, dignity, and care.

    The Changes in Native American Indian Clothing…

    The Gloucestershire region of England produced most of the woolen cloth for the Indian trade. Known as “saved-list”, “stroud”, or “Indian” cloth, it often came in dark blue or scarlet. The term “saved-list” refers to the cloth’s undyed lists or edges.

    At first, Native women used woolen cloth sparlingly to make dresses. Later, with the increased availability of cloth, women made cloth dresses that followed the pattern of hide dresses. Even after less expensive dyes were developed around 1850, manufacturers continued to make these white-edged woolen cloths to meet the demand of Native women.

    Being forced into closer contact with each other, tribes began to borrow each other’s tribal dress…fringed buckskin clothing, headdresses, woven blankets.

    Native Americans began to adapt European styles to their own style, decorating their clothing with beadwork, embroidery and designs…ribbon shirts, patchwork skirts, beaded jackets and shirts.

    Because of forced relocation, some of the more “luxury” crafts had almost been lost, such as the beautiful bead work on moccasins, bags, belts and dresses. Too sick, hungry and cold to lavish time to make those items, efforts went to providing food, shelter and basic clothing.

    Women elders are respected as the keepers of vast amounts of knowledge. Being an elder also put them in a position to accumulate valuable materials to put on their clothing such as elk teeth, seed beads, trade beads, brass beads, pony beads, different colors of wool and sinew.

    Women sewed cloth dresses that incorporated the white edge or “saved-list” of the fabric as decoration along the sleeves and bottoms. European tailors usually cut off and discarded this undyed material.

    At times, paint was used on dresses to signify a tribe, a tribal identity or even the region where the person came from. For instance, yellow paint signifies the flowers growing in the south.

    Blackfeet woman as well as other Northern Plains artists use natural colors in their clothing. They combine colors that will blend with each other. They are noted for the emphasis on the natural beauty of the hides.

    Crow artists design dresses for special occasions that are often adorned with the eyeteeth of elk or imitation teeth carved from bone. Elk teeth symbolize longevity to the Crow – teeth remain long after the animal decays.

    ..and Now

    Contemporaty style clothing is the order of the day but unique Native American Indian clothing styles exist in everything from shirts and moccasins to coats.

    There are three types Native American Indian clothing available for buying or collecting – Traditional Native American Clothing, Contemporary Native American Indian clothing and Native American Designer Clothing.

    The traditional clothing such as buckskins, moccasins and ribbon dresses are worn during ceremonies. At powwows and religious ceremonies, other traditional clothing is worn such as breechcloths, leggings, headdresses and shawls. High-end Native American Indian clothing designers are showing beautiful items reflecting their heritage.

    Source: support-native-american-art Unabridged
    Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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