Published on June 27, 2011 by Amy
Wasting nothing procured from nature, Cherokee Indians relied on animal skins and plants to convert into clothing. Following the arrival of European colonists in the late 1700s, the Cherokee mode of dress shifted to that of their white neighbors.
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Adapting to European fashion trends, Cherokee women began wearing shawls and tear dresses, while men sported long braided or beaded jackets and ribbon shirts.
The traditional clothing style for Cherokee men today is the ribbon shirt. Made from calico fabric, this garment has front and back ribbon designs and full-length sleeves. On special occasions or when traveling the powwow circuit, the traditional calico turban adorned with feathers is sometimes worn.
The Cherokee woman’s modern-day fashion is the tear dress. Styled from a calico print, this floor-length dress has a diamond applique pattern on the collar and above the flounce on the skirt. Occasionally seamstresses modify the pattern to reflect the sacred Cherokee seven-sided star.
The tear dress is named for the Trail of Tears, a dark period in Cherokee Indian history. In 1830, passage of a bill by the U.S. Congress allowed the removal of all Native American tribes living east of the Mississippi River. Because of an influx of white expansion, the Cherokees and more than 50 other tribes were forced to leave their homelands to settle in the west. Thousands died and many tears were shed on this journey after suffering from hunger, frigid weather and diseases.
Cherokee clothing has come a long way since the days of deerskin loincloths and skirts woven from bark strips or hemp, but one constant remains–moccasins. Many years ago, impending weather conditions necessitated the use of these soft leather shoes. Today this footwear completes the traditional Cherokee outfit.