Native American Clothing

The clothing of Native Americans varied widely. It depended on what resources were available to them, where they lived, and the time of year. Native Americans in very warm or tropical regions wore very little clothing. In some cases, they even went naked! In colder climates, more layers of clothing were worn, and they were usually made from thicker materials.

Native American Clothing

One of the most common materials used in Native American clothing was animal skins. Over many years, Native Americans developed ways of tanning animal hides so that they became soft leather. The leather was used for shoes and clothing, and sometimes as a covering for their homes. Using animal hides as clothing also served another purpose. Some Native American tribes believed that wearing the skin of an animal gave the wearer some of the animal’s strength and power. Sometimes, an animal’s tail would be left intact and used at the neckline, something like a furry necklace!

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For much of Native American history, they also used the plants native to their region for clothing. They even used tree bark, if you can imagine that! It’s hard to imagine, but bark would be stripped from the tree, dried, and shredded. The fibers gathered from shredding the bark would then be woven into various items of clothing, such as skirts, hats, capes, and aprons.

In time, Native Americans began to grow cotton and weave it into cloth. Other fibers such as wool, yucca, and even human hair were sometimes woven into fabrics! Many items of clothing were also highly decorated, with things like beads, shells, feathers, animal teeth, and fringe. Sometimes decorations were more than simple embellishments. Sometimes decorations could indicate a person’s tribe, a woman’s marital status, or how skilled the person was as a hunter.

By the mid-1800s, Native American tribes began using a material known as “Indian” cloth. This was a type of wool that was woven specifically to be used in trading with Native Americans. It was usually dyed bright, vivid colors.

Unfortunately, increased contact with Europeans and later, Americans, meant that Native Americans gradually lost their traditional ways. Living on reservations meant that Native Americans often lost access to the traditional plants and fibers they used in clothing. Being forced away from their homes meant that Native Americans gradually lost their traditions (in clothing and in other ways). In time, their clothing became no different than that worn by white Americans.

Facts About Native American Clothing:

• Most clothing was made by Native American women
• Tribes in rainier regions of North American actually used bark to make rain hats and raincoats!
• The Ghost Dance dresses of the late 1800s were adorned with paintings of warriors and battles