History of Native American Clothing

Picture of a Powhatan Longhouse Village

History of Native American Clothing
Facts and information about the History of Clothing and regalia of Native American Indians. The History of Native American Clothing varied from tribe to tribe and was made from the natural resources that were available in their different locations. The natural resources used to make clothes fell into three main types. Clothes made from animal products, clothing made from plant products and clothing made from cloth that was woven from cotton or other plant fibers.

Trade Cloth was introduced by the Europeans in the late 1700's and changed the culture of the tribes and the history of Native American clothing forever.

Native American Clothing History Fact Sheet

  • Clothing History Fact 1: The natural resources, the changing seasons and the differing climates of North America, dictated the various styles of clothing.
  • Clothing History Fact 2: Everyday garments were highly practical and created to suit the habitat of tribes that ranged from the freezing cold conditions of the Arctic and Sub-arctic Indians, the burning hot deserts, the tropical regions, the heavy rainfall of the Woodlands, the temperate climate found in California and the cooler climate of the Great Plains and Basin
  • Clothing History Fact 3: The early Native American tribes who inhabited the temperate and hot climates of North America originally wore few clothes. Semi-nudity was common with the men wearing breechclouts and the women wearing a type of apron 
  • Clothing History Fact 4: Materials used for clothing depended on the natural resources available in each region and the types, designs, fashions and styles of clothes were created by the different tribes
  • Clothing History Fact 5: The natural resources that were used to make Native American clothing fell into three main groups:
    • Animal Products: Clothing made from animal products, including skins and fur, pelts of birds, that were stitched together with sinew. Teeth, claws and bones of animals were never wasted and used to create Native American Jewelry
    • Plant Products: Clothing made from plant products such as the bark of trees that were shredded to make fibers or grasses that were woven to
    • Cloth: Garments made from cloth produced by various tribes that were woven from cotton, sheep's wool or goat's hair. The Europeans then introduced Trade Cloth and American styles of clothing and fashion were adopted
  • Clothing History Fact 6: The animals used in creating Native American clothing included buffalo, bear, elk, deer, moose, otter, fish (skins), walrus, seal, birds, ermine, rabbit, weasel, wildcats and snakeskin
  • Clothing History Fact 7: Different styles and designs of Moccasins were made as footwear by nearly all the Native American Tribes. Moccasins were produced in different colors and were decorated with quill work, fringes, beadwork and painted designs
  • Clothing History Fact 8: Numerous styles and types of Native American Headdresses and headwear were created by all of the tribes. Native Indians are most closely associated with the magnificent Feather Headdresses, War Bonnets and Roach Headdresses worn by the tribes of the Great Plains.
  • Clothing History Fact 9: The tribes who inhabited the Great Plains such as the Sioux, Pawnee, Crow and Mandan, developed methods of tanning the skins to make soft leather.
  • Clothing History Fact 10: The tribes of the Great Plains  used the tanned skins of deer (Buckskin) and buffalo to make items of clothing such as shirts, leggings, dresses, belts, cloaks, moccasins and breechclouts
  • Clothing History Fact 11: Great Plains men's clothes: The shirts, or tunics, worn by the men were put on over the head and hung free over the hips A cape-like yoke was formed from two pieces of skins that hung over the shoulders that fell loosely over the arms, taking the place of sleeves
  • Clothing History Fact 12: Great Plains women's clothes: The women wore knee-length dresses and leggings that were held with garters
  • Clothing History Fact 13: Arctic tribes, such as the Aleut, made clothes from animal skins and furs from the sea lion, walrus or sea otter. They wore fur-lined, hooded coats called Parkas and boots called Mukluks. The Aleut also weaved hats made from from dune wildrye grass
  • Clothes History Fact 14: Great Basin Tribes, like the Paiute, Ute and the Washoe, inhabited the Eastern desert areas and used the shredded bark from sagebrush and rabbit skins to make some of their clothes
  • Clothes History Fact 15: Southwestern tribes such as the Pueblo and the Hopi developed different methods of weaving and wove cotton into cloth, creating different types of cotton clothing.
  • Clothes History Fact 16: Northwest Coast Tribes, such as the Haida and Tsimshian, wove wool from mountain-sheep wool and mountain-goat hair and developed the Chilkat weaving technique that was applied to creating blankets and different types of clothes including tunics, shirts, leggings and cloaks
  • Clothes History Fact 17:  Northwest Pacific Coast Tribes, such as the Chinook and the Tlingit  used woven bear grass and spruce root to make hats and raincoats
  • Clothes History Fact 18: Southeastern tribes such as the Cherokee originally used mulberry bark to make soft shirts and other clothes. The history of their clothes and style of dress was were greatly influenced by the Americans and the introduction and availability of trade cloth
  • Clothes History Fact 19: Trade Cloth consisted of many different types of machine-made textiles such as wool, linen and calico that were produced in vast quantities and used for trading with Native American Indians
  • Clothes History Fact 20: Glass Beads were also introduced as trade items and Native American tribes became adept at beadwork. The glass beads were used to adorn many different articles of clothing especially dresses and were used to decorate sashes, belts, garters and many types of pouches and bags
Native American Clothing
Native Indian Tribes Index

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