Why did Indians wear fringed leather?

The clothing of the Indians in detail

The clothing in the cultural areas in detail

Tribal clothing in the subarctic

The subarctic is a vast area in which the manufacture of clothing from south to north has brought with it an ever increasing tendency of refinement. Leggings or trousers to which the fur- or grass-lined moccasins were attached were in use. In addition, one put on a half-cut dress or leather shirt.

For the Dogrib, women's clothing initially consisted of a dress made of smoked caribou skin sewn with tendons, which was decorated with red or white porcupine bristle applications and flannel fabric. This also included a belt with white and red bristles and tube-like leggings, which were made from the same material and with the same processing as the dress. The separate moccasins had a straight, central front seam and a T-shaped heel seam. The garments of men were similar to those of women, but with a slight white tint in the collar.

The clothing of the Eastern Cree was very similar. The hunters wore a hooded coat made of caribou skin, the hair of which was left and was therefore very similar to the Eskimo parkas. The outlines of the animal's eyes and mouth have been painted on the inside. This should symbolically preserve the strength of the living animal, its speed, endurance or cunning in the clothing and transfer it to the wearer.
The festive or ceremonial clothing was finer than the everyday costume. It was also embellished with porcupine bristles, dental bowls and painting. When the glass beads came into circulation, they were combined with the bristles, and later they even completely replaced the local quill work.

Image 1 - right
The Assiniboin warrior "The Light" was painted by Catlin. He wore traditional, extraordinarily beautiful clothes. The leg warmers and shirt were made of mountain goat leather, decorated with porcupine spines and scalp fringes - he had taken the scalps from enemies.

Image 2 - left
The Mandan chief "Mato-Tope - Four Bears" was painted by Catlin. He was wearing a mountain sheep leather shirt. Porcupine quills were sewn onto both arms and ermine fur formed the top of the shirt. The leg warmers - a kind of leggings - were made of deerskin, on which porcupine bristles and also the scalp locks of his enemies were attached. As headdress, the mandan wore eagle feathers that were attached to an ermine, reaching down to the floor and highly polished buffalo horns.

The naskapi used bone and wood tools to paint their clothes. This resulted in magnificent patterns, the main colors of which were yellow and red. In order to obtain other shades of color, the colors were also mixed. Parallel lines were created with the help of a thorny device, while fine lines were created with a crooked pencil. Geometric patterns and double curve motifs were popular motifs on men's robes and summer jackets.

Kutchin and Chipewyan
The Athapaskan-speaking Kutchin in the northwest of the subarctic wore great prestige robes. The shirts or tunics were cut to a point and had a complicated pattern made up of many individual pieces of leather. The main part consisted of a large chest and back. The Chipewyan who inhabited the land further southeast traditionally wore the same style of clothing.

Image 3 - right
An unknown Indian woman wears a beautifully decorated buffalo fur in the picture. Unfortunately the picture was not completed. But you can still see numerous details.

Most North American tribes smoothed and dyed the porcupines' spines and wove or sewed them into the patterns of the garments. During the 19th century, porcupine bristles were mostly replaced by glass beads imported from Europe.

Image 4 - left
The Piegan woman wears a traditional dress of the Plain Indians. It is decorated with pearls and a colorful sash holds it together. It was perhaps her best garment, which was made to the correct length. Every dress should cover the ankles, decency forbade her to see this part of the body.

Clothing of the tribes in the plateau region

The clothing of the plateau region traditionally consisted of soft-tanned and mostly depilated antelope, elk or deer skin. Shirt, apron, leggings and moccasins made of soft soles were typical men's clothing. The woman's consisted of a dress, calf-length leggings and moccasins. Both sexes also wore robes.

Cœur d'Alêne and Nez Percé
The women's dress of the Cœur d'Alêne resembled that of the Nez Percé. Three deer skins were needed for a dress: two for the chest and back and a third for the shaping, for fringing and hems.
The tops of the skins were tucked in on the outside of the dress. This created a kind of false yoke in front and behind. This in turn was completely sewn to the dress or only attached in places with leather straps. The edges of the wrap were provided with tassels or pendants. The end of the tail was usually not trimmed, but the hair was cut in sections.
On the underside, the sleeve usually remained open or was pinned or tied with leather straps. Three rows of fringes or straps were often worked into the dress below the waist. Under the yoke, individual rows were sometimes made on the front and back of the dress. The fitting piece was completely or only in the lower part decorated with pearls or bristle applications, which followed the contours of the fitting seam in their setting. Sometimes the dress was trimmed with pearls below the yoke. Some dresses also had several strips of bristle across the chest and back, and the pass seam was frayed. Most of the clothes usually came down to the ankle.

Image 5 - right
Here is a beautiful cape. The dress that the Teton Sioux woman wears under the cloak is decorated with white and blue trade pearls, has metal buttons and, as usual, is edged with fringes.

The leggings were also made of tanned hides. They reached to the knee and mostly had a fringe on the outside. Most of them could be opened on the side, wrapped around the leg and tied. A lacing strap was attached above the calf to prevent the leggings from slipping. A narrow band of pearls ran along the outside. The entire lower part of the leggings was very richly set with pearls.

Image 6 - left
Pattern selection for blankets, scarves and capes. Their heroic deeds were also painted on many of the cloaks of chiefs and respected warriors.

There were different types of moccasins. The most popular type of the Cœur d'Alêne and the neighboring tribes was the one in which the moccasin was sewn from a piece of deerskin. The main seam that started on the big toe ran on the inside, passed a few inches behind the heel seam and then ran around the outside of the sole. A suede strip was incorporated into the heel, which made it easier to take off the moccasin. A piece of fur was thrown and sewn over the upper part of the moccasin, which was used to put the leggings in and fasten them. This summer moccasin was cut tight, whereas the winter moccasins were wider and were mostly made from the tanned hides of deer, antelope or bison. The hair of the skin was left on the inside.
At the end of the 19th century, a new two-piece, rawhide-soled moccasin appeared on the plateau, which almost completely replaced the old soft-sole type.

The clothing of the Indians in the Great Basin

For the Indian population in the interior of the Great Basin, the so-called donkey hare - Latin Lepus californicus, which belongs to the genus of the real hare within the rabbit family (Leporidae) - played an essential role. He provided the people with food on the one hand, and he also gave them clothes on the other. For a robe as winter clothing, however, you need forty of these animals, whose fur is cut into strips and then processed further. This was very elaborate, why such a garment was only worn by the most influential of a tribe.
The majority therefore wore only wrapped skins around their legs and feet to protect them against the harsh climate. In summer the women wore a two-layer skirt, the men an apron, both pieces of clothing were made from a fiber from the sagebrush - also called sagebrush or desert sage.

Image 7 - right: spread of the donkey hare
- Photo credits -
Description English: Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) range - Date December 14, 2010 - Source: Base map derived from File: BlankMap-World.png. Distribution data from IUCN Red List - Author: Chermundy

Description Black Tailed Jackrabbit, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah Date 28 June 2006, 21:24 - Source My, What Big Ears You Have! Uploaded by Vux - Author James Marvin Phelps from Riverview, Michigan, USA Camera location: 37 ° 31 '0.75 "N, 111 ° 59' 20.27" W

Image 8 - left: Sagebrush
Sagebrush - also called steppe mugwort or desert sage.

The clothing of the tribes in California

Yurok clothing was the typical clothing of California in the past. Young men wore folded deer fur around their waists, older men had nothing on in the warmer months of the year. The usual clothing for women consisted of a front part trimmed with suede fringes, a wide apron, and a wider skirt that was turned over so that it reached into the front part. To do this, they put on wicker hoods. A cloak or a blanket sewn together from two deer skins was put on when the weather made it necessary. The wealthy woman put on plenty of jewelry. Front-seam moccasins made from one piece were typical women's footwear. The woman also wore these shoes when traveling or when gathering firewood.

The clothing of the Karok was similar to that of the Yurok. The Costano clothing, their newer name Ohlone, was also similar to that of other California tribes. Men and boys went naked. The women wore an apron made of grass or tulip rushes that covered the front and back of the body below the waist. Cloaks made of deer or hare skins, the skins of sea mammals and the plumage of water birds formed the typical protection against bad weather. Mud was even used as an insulation material from the cold.
The Costano did not use footwear, they went barefoot and did not wear any headgear - except for ceremonial occasions. The decoration and the tattoo - a type of tattoo - provided both clan membership. For the body painting, stripes were mostly used. The pierced earlobes were decorated with pearls, flowers, feathers or grass. The pierced nasal septum accommodated a small bone - but this was not used by all men. Both sexes liked to wear collars made of pearls, feathers, abalon and olivella shells - shells of a sea snail species.

The Coast Miwok were tall, impressive, and sturdy people who parted their hair in the middle or tied it in a ponytail. The women used the so-called double apron as an item of clothing. The men were occasionally dressed in an apron and had a beard, which is atypical for Indians. The blankets and cloaks were made from the fur of rabbits and other small mammals. This made the clothes very similar to those of their southern and eastern neighbors. They also painted their bodies, sometimes they tattooed themselves and adorned themselves with feathers, which they made into belts and bracelets. Sometimes they also used disc pearls made from mussel shells for decorative purposes, which otherwise served as a means of payment.

The clothing of the plains Indians

The clothing of the Plains Indians was not as uniform as it is often assumed. Traditional elements of the previously economically and culturally different tribes that poured into the prairie from different regions and switched to bison hunting have also had an impact on the shape and design of clothing. In addition, influences emanating from the white colonists are unmistakable. They are particularly noticeable in jackets, vests and trousers made according to the European style, as well as in the use of textiles instead of leather.

The common notion about the clothing of the Plains Indians is most likely to apply to those of the northern tribes (Dakota) and then only to their festive dress.

Before coming into contact with whites, the Plains Indians mainly used deer and buffalo leather to make their clothing. This work was part of the women's remit. The everyday clothing of the prairie hunter consisted of a loincloth, leggings that reached to the waist and were attached to a belt - often also known as gaiters - and moccasins. In everyday life the upper body was left unclothed. War and scalph shirts trimmed with human hair were only worn on special occasions by chiefs, medicine men, distinguished warriors and other Indians with prominent social status. In winter, but also in the camp, when the identification of their social rank made it necessary, the men clad themselves in a large blanket coat made of buffalo hide or leather; decorated with multi-colored pictures depicting the war deeds of the wearer or with magical symbols.

The women wore long, fringed leather dresses with short sleeves that were cut on and open on the inside. These dresses were modeled on those worn by the northern and eastern forest trunks. The dress was often held together at the waist with a belt. Women's clothing also included knee-length leggings and moccasins. Women's coats with geometric patterns were made for puberty and adaptation ceremonies.

The children's clothes essentially corresponded to the everyday clothes of adults and were made with just as much care. As long as the children were in infancy, an often richly decorated child carrier served as a place to stay.

Like many of their other items made of leather, the clothing of the Plains Indians was decorated in a variety of ways. Once they were embroidered with colored porcupine bristles, later these were replaced by European glass beads. In addition, the seams and edges were trimmed with hair and leather fringes or fur.

The origin of the objects can often be recognized by the pattern. This also applies to the moccasins, which in contrast to the soft-soled moccasins of the eastern woodland tribes of the prairie Indians were equipped with an additional hard leather sole. The top of the Dakota moccasins was almost entirely covered with porcupine bristles or pearls, while those of the Cheyenne often have a zigzag pattern and cross bars running over the instep. The Arapaho moccasin was often provided with a wider longitudinal ornament in the instep, which was flanked by two short stripes. The moccasin of the Ute usually had only a narrow longitudinal stripe or a cross, and that of the Prairie-Cree was decorated with flowers.
The prairie Indian is rarely shown in pictures without a feather bonnet with a long train.The bonnet made of eagle feathers with and without a train of the Dakota and other northern tribes as well as the buffalo horn bonnet of the Pawnee - the so-called "deerstails" - were decorations of chiefs and tried and tested warriors and were part of their festive costume. On military campaigns, the Indian only wore feathers of honor with signs of his previous successes and the scalp lock pendant.

They often wore other decorative elements, such as the necklace made from the claws of the grizzly bear or the breast jewelry made from bone sticks, which always had the character of a symbol of courage or dignity. In addition, they put on single or multi-strand necklaces made of bone rods or pearls, which often had disc-shaped pendants made from mussel shells. The hair was held by headbands. Neck, upper arm and lower leg were often decorated with ribbons made of porcupine bristles, fur and pearls. In addition, the Indian wore other objects on his body, but these had a special meaning as "medicine". With their magic they should offer protection from evil and hostile powers and bring about success in war and hunting.

Unfortunately, I don't have the right images for every region. Catlin and Bodmer were only to the east, in the prairies and adjacent areas. The photos of that time do not have the same expressiveness in the direction of 'clothing in details' as painted pictures and their details.

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