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Native American Buckskin Clothing

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eagle feather Similar But Different
From centuries of interacting with one another, Native Americans developed similar techniques of tanning buckskin and making buckskin clothing.  Styles also became fairly similar, especially within geographic regions where there was greater interaction between cultures of Native Americans.

Changes in buckskin clothing styles were so infrequent and subtle they were hardly noticeable without close scrutiny.  It was difficult to identify a person's nation by looking only at the outline of their clothing.   To accurately determine their nation it was necessary to also observe the color of the buckskin, the style used to decorate clothing and accessories, and even the way people wore their hair.
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eagle feather Initial Euro Contact
Prior to initial contact with europeans, clothing of Native Americans in warm weather often included only buckskin breechclout and moccasins for men, and moccasins and a wrap-type buckskin skirt for women.  More clothing was added as protection was needed from cold weather, a glaring sun, or underbrush when traveling.  Men may add leggings and a simple pullover shirt.  Eastern women may add leggings and a poncho type of top.

By the time europeans made contact with the western native People (still living in the mid-continent woodlands), western women had already fashioned full dresses.  In very cold weather another layer of an animal robe or blanket woven of plant fibers or strips of small animal fur was added.
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eagle feather Post Euro Contact
The People covered their bodies more regularly and to a greater extent as contact increased with the lustful european traders and the judgmental, "so-called" Christian missionaries.  Men began wearing leggings almost constantly, and the 'clout became a permanent fixture.  Either a poncho type pullover or a blouse of woven plant fibers became a permanent article of clothing for the eastern woman.

The condemnation spewed by the missionaries for Native Americans' near nudity had its affect.  By 1700 many eastern people, especially those living closer to the Wapsini'is (white men), never took off their clothing until it had to be replaced. They slept, worked, played, and even bathed (except ceremonial baths) with clothes on for fear the white preachers may be right, and they would not be allowed in Creator's perfect place on "the other side" for their indecent dressing habits. Because of that, though, other white men called them "filthy", even though they bathed every day and most white men rarely bathed more than once a week (for Sunday meetin').

Skirts and dresses in all regions came down to a few inches below the knees, while women's leggings came up to just above the knees.  In this way all flesh below the waist was covered, while allowing easy movement for working without wasting any buckskin.  Note: To this day the women of all but a couple southeastern nations are still considered indecently dressed for traditional dances and ceremonies if any part of their lower body is exposed. 
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eagle feather By 1750
By 1750 much of the native clothing in the great lakes and eastern regions was made of trade wool and cotton traded from the French and British, or linen traded from Euro-merican settlers closer to the frontier.  The Cherokee were producing a large amount of their own cotton and linen by this time.

The Native American of the western plains primarily used buckskin for clothing until the 1870's.  After that time they had to rely to a great extent on cloth from the Euro-American government.  Being confined to reserves, it was difficult for them to find and tan enough hides for all of their nations' clothing needs.
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eagle feather Consistency & Curiosities
A consistency among Native American nations was that all fringe on the same or similar area of an item, if included at all, was cut to similar length.  All things are to be equal and in balance.  Uneven fringe was a Euro-merican feature, possibly for better camouflaging, but more likely because they didn't feel a need to trim it.

There were several curious inconsistencies, possibly due to the Mississippi and Rocky Mountain barriers.  People in east of the Mississippi wore center-seam moccasins, while side-seam mocs was the norm in the west.  Eastern men wore short breechclouts with leggings only to mid-thigh in height.  In the west the men wore breechclouts hanging almost to the knees, and leggings up to the groin.  Eastern women word wrap skirts with some form of top.  Women of the plains and western woodlands wore full dresses.
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eagle feather Often Overlooked Facts
Three facts are often overlooked today by people studying the lifestyles and clothing of Native Americans.  First, our ancestors did not need to wear as many clothes as europeans.   They were conditioned daily from birth to withstand harsh weather.

Secondly, in contrast to renditions by many artists, our native ancestors dressed for comfort and function.  Everything, including clothing, had to serve a useful function at the moment, or it wasn't used.  While lounging or working around their homes they may not be "decently attired" by european standards.  European artists, often used for references today, tended to "dress" their subjects according to the artist's own euro-standards of decency.

Our indigenous societies were spiritually oriented, and recognized the human body as simply a vehicle made by Creator to carry their true being - their spirit.  It was an object of function - not lust.  In contrast, european societies were physically oriented, and generally viewed the human form as a means to personal gratification.

The third fact often overlooked by students of Native American clothing is that our ancestors were weaving fabrics from plant fibers long before europeans arrived on "Turtle Island".  Fabrics of exceptional quality were woven from cedar bark, dog bane, various grasses, and many other plant materials.  In fact, of the more than 60 varieties of cotton in the world, two-thirds of them are native to North and Central America.

They readily accepted european fabrics, because the same amount of fabric that would cost them several months to produce could be acquired from european traders for just a few furs.
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Sewing Original Buckskin Clothing Previous Page in Series Next Page in Series Euro-American Buckskin Clothing

Copyright Jan 1999, 2015, Gary A. Reneker. All rights reserved. All text, graphics, programming, and coding are protected by U.S. and International Copyright Laws, and may not be copied, reprinted, published, translated, hosted, or otherwise distributed by any means without explicit permission from Gary A. Reneker.