Indian clothing acted as identification and as status symbol. The type of clothing and accessories a person wore told others what tribe and family they belonged to. For women, clothing showcased their artistic skills and abilities. Native American Languages gives an overview of American Indian clothing and regalia. Fashion Encyclopedia also describes Indian clothing.
Even though all tribes developed their own distinct styles, Indian clothing shared a few common threads. Men commonly wore breechclouts, a piece of hide tucked under their belts that covered their front and backsides. Men in colder climates wore leggings. Some tribesmen opted for kilts and fur trousers instead of breechclouts and leggings. Men usually didn't wear shirts, though some Plains Indian warriors wore special buckskin war shirts.
Depending on their tribe, some women wore shirts and other treated shirts like jackets-optional to wear. Women commonly wore skirts and leggings or one-piece dresses. Native Tech discusses different styles of leggings worn by American Indians. Both men and women wore moccasins.
Indian clothing was closely tied to the environment where tribes had lived. They frequently used hide as fabric and other animal-derived pieces as accoutrements. Indians believed that by wearing parts of an animal, they could derive some of that animal's strength and spirit. Before European settlers arrived, Indians used natural pigments to color their clothes. They even made clothing out of bark, human hair, yucca plants, and wove their own cotton. After the Europeans arrived, Indians obtained many new materials, like glass beads and silver ornaments. As the native people were pushed off their homeland, it became impossible to make traditional clothing. Tribes were eventually forced to buy clothing and fabric from settlers.
Today, there are many places to buy traditional Indian clothing, like moccasins and dresses. Many artists sell custom-made clothing.