Early American Indian western wear consisted mainly of animal hides or leathers. The men wore leggings or a loin cloth, seldom accompanied by a shirt. The women wore leggings, a skirt, or a one piece dress (depending on their tribe) made from leather.
Different tribes had different styles of dress, and used paint as decorations and to also indicate their tribe. Specialized ceremonial and war clothing also varied by tribe. The weather had a great impact on how much clothing was worn.
In the winter, western wear consisted of warm furs made into coverings for all parts of the body. Moccasins were common footwear among all tribes. The biggest difference between the tribes was seen in their headdress and ceremonial clothing.
As tribes were forced into closer contact with each other, they began borrowing each others style of dress, such as fringed buckskin clothing and headdresses. Woven Indian blankets also became widely used. Beads, embroidery and other embellishments were added as decorations to their clothing.
As cloth became widely available, western wear for Indians soon included cloth skirts, dresses and shirts. “Indian cloth” was fabric with white edges remaining from the manufacturing process. The Indians used the white edges as part of their decorations when making their 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.
The Blackfoot tribe in Idaho used natural colorings in their clothing. Their western wear emphasized the natural beauty found in the leather. They used colors that blended well together.
Traditional American Indian western wear can still be found. Mainly used for ceremonial purposes, it reminds us of the heritage of our American Indian brothers. By preserving the American Indian’s way of dress, we help preserve their heritage.