Native American Clothing

At one time there were hundreds of different tribes of Native Americans in North America alone. Each tribe had its own customs, rituals and ways of dressing. Clothing was used to designate tribes, clans and individual rank or place within each. Special items of clothing were worn for religious ceremonies, hunting, and making war. Everyday clothing in the days before European influence depended upon what climate and terrain the tribe occupied.

In many Native American tribes, the male members wore long rectangular pieces of hide or woven material as breechcloths. The ends were tucked over their belts, allowing the flaps to fall in the front and the back. If the weather was cold, leather leggings could be attached. This article of clothing was also sometimes called a breechclout. Men did not usually wear shirts, except in the case of the war shirt, or ghost shirt worn by the Plains Indians. Many of these were elaborately decorated with items such as hair and ermine tails, along with some form of beadwork or quillwork. Male and female members of most tribes wore some type of moccasin.

The dress of Native American women also differed from tribe to tribe. While in some tribes clothing for the upper body was optional, women in other tribes wore one piece dresses made of hide, or even cotton. Buckskin was especially favored, even though it took over forty hours to properly prepare a hide for use as clothing, and this was before the garment was even cut. The Cherokee's have a special legend surrounding the Cherokee Tear dress worn by female members.

Beading and quillwork was used to decorate various items of Native American clothing. What beads were used, and in what pattern, often held spiritual significance, or identified what group the wearer belonged to. Beads were used to validate treaties, and to remember oral traditions. Beads were first made of shells, wood and bone. The arrival of Europeans in the new world brought the valuable commodity of beads made of glass and other materials previously unavailable to the Native Americans. Beads became a form of currency used between the Natives and the newcomers.

Native American headdresses also varied dramatically from tribe to tribe. Very few tribes actually wore the large feathered warbonnets that most people associate with native North American tribes. These tribes mainly included Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Plains Cree, and male chiefs and warriors only wore warbonnets. Eagle feathers were the feathers of choice.

Roach headdresses were actually the most widely used headdresses in North America. They too, were only worn by males. In some tribes they were worn only for war, while in others they were worn for dance regalia or sporting events. Roach headdresses were created from stiff animal hair that was attached to a leather band so that it stood up straight. Types of hair used included porcupine guard hair, the hair from a deer's tail, and even moose hair.

Basket hats, buffalo headdresses, otter fur turbans, and even feathered bands were worn by various other Native American tribes, although only headbands were worn by female members of the tribe.

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