Native American Indians History Essay: Clothes of American Indians

Category: History

Clothes of American Indians

The clothing of Indians was the important attribute that indicated their traditions, culture, and military experience. Initially, there were various different traditional styles of clothing in North America Indians. Almost every Native American tribe had its own distinctive style of dress. People can often determine to which tribe a person belonged based on clothing, headdress, feathers, and jewelry. Indians could be dressed up in different ways. The tribes of the plains and the northern and eastern regions had more clothes than the tribes which were living in the warmer south. Indians from the south region of the North America almost did not have clothing because of the climate features. Finery appeared relatively recently, when the Indians began using in clothing silk, ribbons, velvet, and satin, imitating white people with whom they had met in the cities while driving along the rivers and in the military garrisons. The Indians took from the white clothes and style, so after the 1860 Indian outfits have become a parody of the traditional Indian attire.

As in many world cultures, the clothing of men were different from women and had their own features. The natural resources, climate, and animals that were available to Native Americans were the main factors which determined the clothing of Indian men and women. In many American Indian tribes, men wore loincloths, which were long rectangular pieces of leather or cloth tucked under the belt. In other Indian tribes, men used to have fur trousers or a short kilt instead of a loincloth. Most Indian men did not use shirts, but Indian warriors who lived on the territory of plains wore special military buckskin shirt. They decorated them with embroidery, ermine tails, and fur. Generally, Indian men walked bare-chested, and their clothing was characterized by short pants. In the cold and rainy weather, they tended to use a blanket that looked like a cape. Shirts were not the traditional clothing for regular Native American Indians. Only men who held a high position in the tribe could wear shirts, mostly during festive ceremonies. The vast majority of Native American women tended to wore leggings and skirts. The design and length of this type of clothing varied from tribe to tribe. There were many Indian cultures where women’s shirts were optional and were generally considered more like coats. At the same time, in other tribes, women always wore tunics or robes in public. It was also very usual for women to wear a buckskin dress, which consisted only from one piece of cloth.

One of the most interesting parts of Indian American clothing was moccasins. Different tribes had their own traditional ways of moccasins’ production. Previously, there was used only rawhide. Indians made moccasins with the help of awls, needles, and thread veins. A distinctive feature of the moccasin was that they were not tied through the rows of holes. Their laces served as winding strings. Later, they were also used by European settlers. This type of shoes was especially favorable among European hunters and trappers. Under their influence, Indians began to make rough soles for moccasins. Some Indians sewed solid soles only after moccasin rubbed off. The hard-sole moccasins were widely used by Plains Indians. They protected them from snakes and rocks. The extensive feature of moccasins was the ability to protect the wearer and at the same time give him the opportunity to feel the ground. Unlike them, the eastern Indians used moccasins with soft soles in order to walk in forests with leaf-covered ground. During winter and cold weather, Indians could wear moccasins from animal skin with wool and fur inside. In order to make them warmer, they stuffed moccasins with wool and dry grass. Each type of moccasins also had its practical purpose. Some of them were for recreation, others were for work in agriculture, others for hunting and persecution of animals.   

Leather and fur were the most common materials from which Indians mad their clothes. However, apart from them, they also used feathers, hides, claws, skins, and teeth. It is related to the fact that the American Indians highly respected the nature and did not want to waste any animal products in order to create Indian ornaments and clothing. “When women made Native American clothing they were never wasteful with animal products” ( After the arriving of the European settlers, the history and design of the Native American Indians rapidly changed. For some reasons, it happened that many Indian tribes were forced to have a closer contact with each other. The closer cooperation made them borrow and accept the similar style of clothing. The only exception was the headdresses during these clothing changes and adaptations. The next changed in clothing occurred when Indian tribes adapted to such European animals as horses. Originally, the design and style of Native American Indians was influenced by nature of the American continent. Later, it was influenced by foreign settlers. Europeans made the significant impact on the design of Native Americans. The process of changes in clothing lasted for centuries, while Indians merged and adapted different European styles with their own ones. Indians began to adapt some parts of the details of the European dress in their own style, decorating garments typical beadwork and traditional patterns.

The Indians were very fond of all sorts of jewelry, which they were applied to clothing. Men and women wore earrings the size of which depended on their roles or positions in the tribe. There were also popular necklaces, rings, pendants, and various bracelets for hands and feet among Indians. They knew how to do embroidery and fringed and applied various images on leather clothes, which they decorated with shells, beads, feathers, and porcupine quills. Indians used not only leather for clothing. There were plenty of other materials that Indian women used. Indian women skillfully weaved, embroidered, and made folds in clothing. They made it by hand as well as with the help of the loom. Indian weavers could easily make such types of clothing as shirts and blouses, dresses, belts, capes, bed covers, as usual, ponchos and so on. At an early age, children had no clothes except shoes for protection from snakes and ants. They received clothes from five years old when they began to learn adult classes and rules of proper behavior. 

An important part of the Indians style was their hair. Most Native Americans had long hair which they intercepted with the help of the strap, scarf, or a narrow headband. The certain type of hairstyle could tell about whether a person is married or single. It could also distinguish an experienced warrior from the beginner. In some tribes, there was a tradition to shave the head for warriors in order to frighten the enemy. There were also strict rules as for using feathers in a headdress. One soldier had the right to wear one eagle feather; the other had the right to wear two eagle feathers. Feathers and bits of fur on the warrior head as well as in other parts of the body meant a sign of distinction and respect. It also matched to a particular military rank or merit. “When a warrior has been wounded a red spot is painted upon the broad side of a feather” (Koch). Otter, beaver, wild cats, as well as the skin of a panther were supposed to be worn by those who had a distinguished merit. Indians who wore fox fur or raccoon had greater merits compared to those who wore squirrel fur.

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The Native American Indians adapted their clothing style with accordance to the climate, weather, and other native conditions on the American continent. With the arrival of the European settlers, the design of their clothes became to change. Indians borrowed many new elements from the European clothing. Nowadays, Indians usually wear casual clothing which dominates in the modern American society. They tend to dress their national clothing on different celebrations and festivals.