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Home > Articles > American Indian Western Wear

American Indian Western Wear

Before the arrival of the white man, native American Indian western wear consisted mainly of animal skins or hides. The men usually wore no shirts; a loincloth or leggings sufficed. The women wore skirts, leggings or sometimes a one piece dress.

Paint was used to decorate their bodies as well as their clothing and indicated what tribe they belonged to. They also had specialized clothing worn for battle, and ceremonial clothing used on special occasions. Clothing styles varied slightly from tribe to tribe, the amount of clothing worn depending mainly on the weather.

During the winter, warmer furs were used. Moccasins were part of each tribe's western wear. The biggest difference between the tribes was seen in their headgear and ceremonial clothing.

Adornments differed according to the tribe. The Crow used the eyeteeth of an elk, or imitation teeth carved from bone. Since teeth remain long after the animal decays, this symbolized longevity.

Women from the Blackfoot tribe in Idaho used natural colorings in their clothing. They emphasized the natural beauty found in leathers, and combined colors that blended well together. Their western wear emphasized the beauty found in nature.

With closer contact to each other, tribes began borrowing each others tribal dress, such as fringed buckskin clothing, headdresses and woven blankets. Due to European influences, Indian women began adapting their clothing by adding bead-work, embroidery and other designs.

As cloth became more available, western wear for Indians included cloth skirts, dresses and shirts to replace those made from skins. "Indian cloth" had white edges that hadn't been dyed in the manufacturing process. The Europeans discarded these edges, but the American Indians used them as part of their clothing design along the edges of hems and sleeves.

Traditional Indian western wear can still be found. It is used mainly for ceremonial purposes. Through the preservation of the Native American Indian dress their heritage is also preserved.