What Did Native Americans Wear?

Today, the United States is regarded for having one of the best fashion industries in the world. But have you ever wondered where these inspirations came from or how they began? In this article, we’ll go over the history of American clothing. So if you have ever wondered what did Native Americans wear, read on.

Native American clothing is perhaps one of the most creative and intricate fashion styles that we may have ever seen in history. It stands out from many other traditional attires because of how nicely it’s been made and the narrative behind it.

Before the Europeans arrived, Native American dress varied based on the tribe and the climate where they lived. During the summer, most Native American men wore only short protections such as breechclout and moccasins. Women dressed a little more, typically covering themselves with whole-body robes, but also frequently wearing only skirts.

People wore full-sleeved shirts, and coats throughout the winter months. But since the majority of Native American societies were nomadic, most people only had a limited set of clothing, mostly with only one pair.

Native American Clothing

what did native americans wear

Native Americans’ clothing was heavily influenced by their geographical location, as well as their religious beliefs. In a variety of climates, including hot and arid, forests and mountains, and Arctic tundra, Native Americans developed a wide range of clothing styles. In the hottest sections of the country, there was only very little clothing on. The people of California were mostly naked, but the women wore basic bootcut skirts.

“Native Americans’ clothing was heavily influenced by their geographical location, as well as their religious beliefs.”

In milder climates, more clothing styles emerged. Plains Indian tribes invented loincloths, leggings, coats, and cloaks for men, and skirts and frocks for women. In the coldest parts of the Subarctic and Arctic, they were protected by thermal leggings, anorak jackets, and gloves. Despite enormous differences in climate and dress choices, Native Americans shared the basic philosophy of living in peace with nature. As a result, the materials and type of clothing they used were impacted by this philosophy.

What did Native Americans Wear?

Native Americans used animals and plants as their primary source of food and clothing before the Europeans arrived in the 17th century. The bark of trees, which was scrapped, dried, and frayed to form fibers, was one of the most abundant resources in many localities. These fibres were used to produce various forms of clothing such as skirts, coats, belts, capes, aprons, shirts. Other clothes were also made from crushed bark because they are soft and comfy to wear.

Plant Fibres

The materials used to make Native American clothes are one of the easiest ways to tell them apart from others. Cotton is one of these. Cotton was first used in central Mexico before it was brought in the American Southwest. At that time, cotton was highly valued by the cultures of the Southwest because of its incomparable characteristics. It is lightweight and breathable, making it the main material used to make stockings, mittens, and leggings.

They also used other plant fibers in places where cotton was not suitable to grow or was not allowed for trading in the Southwest settlements. Mulberry bark was used in the Southeast. It was also used in the Northwest, while sagebrush was used in the Plains. The bark was scraped and pounded into soft fibers, which were then woven into garments.

Animal Skins/ Teeth/ Claws

what clothes did native americans wear

The Native Americans mostly subsisted on farming, fishing, hunting, and picking edible plants. Some tribes, such as the Navajo in Arizona (today) and the Oneida in Central New York, took care of sheep and planted crops to supplement their resources.

Most of these tribes made use of the skins of the animals that they killed in creating their apparel. They devised procedures for tanning skins to create soft leather, which they used in making garments and shoes. 

Leather clothing was supple but durable, and it provided warmth whenever the leather came into contact with the wearer’s skin. Other tribes, such as the Apaches of the Western Plains and the Algonquin of southern Canada, recognized the leather’s exceptional capabilities and used it to create the walls of their homes because of these features.

How Did Native Americans Make Clothes?

native american clothing

Native American Indian women manufactured the majority of their apparel by making use of the fibers for weaving. Small trees were stripped of their bark, which was then sun-dried before being crushed into a pliable mass and shredded into thin, strong fibers. These fibers were then woven into the fabric to make clothes for cover and protection.

These bark clothing were occasionally embellished with ornamentals, porcupine quills, or animal teeth and claws, as Native Americans loved to bring beauty into their life by decorating their daily goods. However, cleaning bark clothes were not as easy as we may think. Good thing, there was an abundance of resources, which is why most bark clothing was simply thrown away after acquiring too much dirt.

Despite the fact that numerous tribes made use of handwoven cloth, people of the American Southwest were the first to invent a loom for weaving fabric. Indians in the Southwest produced cotton and wove it into cloth long before the arrival of the first Europeans. They also made textiles out of shrubs, fur, quills, and even human hair. Woven fibers were frequently used in their loincloths, leggings, and skirts.

As Native Americans continued to interact with the colonizers, their capacity to make traditional clothing was diminished.

When the Native Americans started trading with the whites, they quickly incorporated new products into their outfits, such as trinkets and jewels. The unceasing communication with the whites made it hard for Native Americans to dress in their customary ways.

What Did Native Americans Wear Final Note

Native Americans lost their capacity to hunt for or acquire the necessary materials for their clothing after being pushed off their homelands and onto reservations, government territory set aside for them to occupy. Because of their new conditions, many Natives were obliged to procure clothing from Europeans, which radically altered Native American fashion.