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Native American Clothing Facts

The clothing that the early indigenous people of North America wore depended on the tribe and where the tribe lived.

If the tribes were in hot or warm climates, they, of course, didn’t need warm clothing.

However, if they lived in areas that experienced winter weather, they would make clothing lined with fur.

Santa Fe Indian Market Fashion Show 2014

What materials were used?

Before the European explorers and later settlers arrived in North America, Native Americans wore clothing made from the hides of various animals.

If the tribes lived where deer and elk were hunted for food, such as the Cherokee and Iroquois Indians, the clothing would be made from deer and elk hides.

If the tribe hunted bison for food, such as the Plains tribes, they would make clothing from bison hides.

Joseph Brant By Charles Bird King

In the north, the tribes, such as the Inuit and Eskimo, hunted seals and caribou, so their clothing would be made from seal skin and the hides of caribou.

Some tribes, especially the Navajo, Seminole, and Apache, used various plants and learned how to weave blankets, shirts, and tunics.

Quilled Vest Porcupine Quills Houston Museum Of Natural Science

How were hides used?

If clothing was needed for cold weather, the hair was left on as added insulation, such as rabbit fur, fox, and seal skin.

Generally, the hides were stripped of all the hair and the hides were rubbed with various fats or the brains of the animals, until the hide was thinned and became leather that was soft and pliable.

Mohawk Kings

Now the women could cut the leather into pieces and sew the pieces together to form leggings, moccasins, shirts, loincloths, and dresses.

In the north, the women made a type of moccasin called a mukluk. The mukluk had the seal’s hide with the hair on the outside and they were lined with fur.

Decorations

The women would decorate the clothing with bits of fur and fringes. Headdresses were also made for the men of the tribe and decorated with fur, feathers, and porcupine quills.

Ardina Moore Ribbonwork

Some headdresses were very elaborate and some were very simple. The elaborate ones were worn by the leaders of the tribe.

After the Europeans arrived, the tribes traded goods with them and were given glass beads in payment for furs and meat.

The women learned how to use these beads to decorate their clothing and made intricate designs using rows of different colored beads.

Beaded Shirt Ojibway Peoples Wisconsin 1885-1910 Velvet Glass Cotton Fernbank Museum Of Natural History

QUESTIONS

  1. What did the Indians use for clothing if they lived in cold climates?
  2. Who were the North American tribes that lived in the far north?
  3. What was used to add extra insulation to the clothing?
  4. Name five types of clothing that the women of the tribe made.
  5. How did the women decorate the clothing before they started trading with Europeans?

Birgit Ridderstedt Centenary Group 2014

ANSWERS

  1. Tribes that lived in cold climates used sealskins and caribou skins to make clothing.
  2. The Inuit and the Eskimo lived in the far north of North America.
  3. Fur was used for extra insulation.
  4. The women made moccasins, shirts, leggings, dresses, and loincloths.
  5. Before the Europeans arrived, the women used fringes, bits of fur, and porcupine quills as decorations.

Native Americans

Ojibwa wigwam

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