Published on May 26, 2013 by Amy
The Navajo (or Diné, as they call themselves) are a Native American people of Southwestern origins, specifically the Four Corners region. According to Navajo People, early Navajos dressed in simple deerskin skirts (women) and shirts (men), which lacked vibrant colors. However, over the centuries, new clothes-making techniques and technologies would spread into Navajo Country and help define the Navajo ceremonial dress and colors seen today.
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During the mid-1600s, the Navajo probably adopted weaving techniques from their Pueblo neighbors (although mythology dictates a spider God taught them). This prompted women to change from wearing animal skin skirts to wrap-around blankets, or mantas, made of woven fabrics. According to Navajo Textiles, these mantas were typically black and blue in color. In the late 1700s, Navajo women began wearing mantas only for ceremonial purposes, as a new style—the two-piece dress—came in to favor. Many of these dresses had black or brown base colors and featured dark blue or red designs (such as bands, diamonds or crosses). However, according to the above source, by the 1890s these dresses would also be relegated to ceremonial use only, as American-style blouses and skirts became more popular for day-to-day life.
According to Navajo People, early Navajo men wore deerskin shirts and leggings, as well as woven blankets called serapes. Men would wrap the serapes around their shoulders, with the end result resembling a poncho (however, unlike ponchos, serapes do not have holes cut-out for the head). According to Navajo Textiles, during the mid-1800s, the availability of pre-dyed, pre-spun yarn allowed the Navajo to experiment with a number of bright colors for serapes, such as oranges, blues, yellows, greens and reds. During this time, the Saltillo style would develop, characterized by rows of multi-colored serrated diamonds. Whereas Navajo men continue to wear serapes for ceremonial purposes, another common ceremonial style is to wear knee-length, tight-fitting, collarless shirts made of velvet or cotton.
Four prominent colors in Navajo ceremonial dress (and culture in general) are black, blue, yellow and white. According to Crystalinks.com, these colors represent the four worlds (or phases) of Navajo mythology: The Black World (1), the Blue World (2), the Yellow World (3) and the White World (4). According to myth, humanity had to pass through the first three worlds in order to reach the White World, which we live in now. All four colors can be seen on the Navajo flag, in the form of individual mountains.