Indian Bridal Wear

From family photo albums to the latest Hollywood blockbuster, the image of a bride in a flowing white gown and veil can be found everywhere today. Before they were assimilated into western culture, Native American women also had a distinct style of wedding attire that was just as recognizable and rich in tradition. However; the materials, construction, design and accessories of Indian bridal wear differed greatly from the gowns popular today.

Silk and satin are sought-after fabrics for dresses today, but deer and elk hide were the materials most often used for Indian bridal wear. The skins were made into clothing by a process called tanning. Depending on the bride's tribe and her stature within it, wedding attire could differ greatly. For example, while a Cherokee woman might wear a buckskin dress and moccasins, a Delaware woman would most often be dressed in a knee-length deerskin skirt and perhaps a robe of turkey feathers in colder months. But except for her bead and shell necklaces and headband, she would be naked from the waist up.

Although a white dress now represents purity and happiness, it was rarely the main color of Indian bridal wear. White was considered a color of mourning to most tribes. Instead, bright colors and symbols adorned Indian bridal wear, especially red, which was thought to bring prosperity and luck. The colors white, yellow, blue and black might also be used together in a dress to symbolize the four directions of north, east, south and west. This color combination brought the wearer the strength of the Earth Mother for the marriage that lay ahead of her. Dresses were also decorated with intricate beadwork, shells or bone. The Crow Indians often decorated theirs with the eyeteeth of an elk, which symbolized fertility and longevity.

Instead of the traditional bridal veil seen today, Native American brides wore intricately decorated head coverings such as the Iroquois' crown-like beaded headbands, or the Wishrams' headdresses constructed from precious materials like abalone and dentalium shells. In addition, some tribes painted their faces in white, red or yellow clay. Moccasins were also a bridal accessory used by most tribes, and elaborate pairs were crafted that were decorated with porcupine quills and colorful seed beads.

Indian bridal wear is still being made and worn. The old methods of brain tanning animal skins have been preserved, artisans still make authentic deerskin dresses, and the Cherokee "Tear" Dress is still used at contemporary weddings. Although different from today's gowns, Native American bridal gowns are just as cherished.

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