Native American Clothes

Native American clothing has a long and diverse history. While each tribe used similar techniques to make their clothes, they took great pride in the designs, which could be quite different from one region to another. These differences were manifested in the cut of the clothes, or the items sewn on the clothing as decorations.

Native American clothing was similar at first only in what was actually worn. Tribes had common types of clothing like breechcloths or moccasins, although the designs were different. Native Americans also wore leggings. Plains Native Americans, particularly the Sioux, wore special war shirts. Women typically wore skirts, but Cheyenne women preferred instead to wear one-piece buckskin dresses, while Pomo tribe women wore skirts made of shredded bark. Native American tribes living in colder regions needed thicker clothing and wore warm trousers, jackets, and hooded anoraks.

The beads and other items woven into or decorating the clothes were unique to the tribes. Northeast tribes like the Iroquois and Pequot favored fur, claws, and shells as accessories for their clothes. Southeast tribes like the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, and the Shawnee of the Plains preferred feathers and even teeth decorations.

Although the ways to decorate them were different, moccasins were made the same way. Made of soft leather stitched together, it was the cut of the leather, beadwork, and painted designs that were unique by tribe, and one could even tell what tribe someone was from, just by looking at their moccasins. Native Americans living in the East wore soft-soled moccasins that were decorated in zoomorphic or flower designs. The designs covered everything except the sides of the moccasins. Hard-soled moccasins, made from two pieces of leather, were worn by Native Americans living in the western plains or the desert. Designs on these moccasins covered the entire top of the moccasin but left the cuffs free of marking.

Once colonization began, tribes began to intermingle more, and their clothes started to become more similar as tribes borrowed from each other. To get the full sense of how Native American clothes were different, you have to look at the years before colonization, and you will truly be fascinated!

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