Native American Fashion
Ethno American is a major theme in my wardrobe, and I use it as an umbrella term for western wear and ethnic wear – a Cowboys and Indians aesthetic, if you will. This piece focuses on Native American fashion, because I wanted to learn more about its history and share some modern-day options.
To begin, I’d like to highlight one of the central roles that dress played, particularly in the precolonial era: identity. I like the idea of clothing as identity, serving as visual cues to help differentiate one tribe from another. For example, the ceinture flechee (arrow sash) became a symbol of identity for the Metis, an Aboriginal group in Canada who adopted it as part of its national dress, and for the Lower Canada Rebellion.
Dress is used for function, protection and to adorn. Typically, one would attribute the former two reasons as the basis for Native American fashion. For example, those ceinture flechees were used by men to tie around their winter jackets to keep the cold out as well as to help prevent back injuries. But wouldn’t any old piece of wool serve the purpose? Sure, but what’s fascinating is that they chose to produce them in colorful, eye-pleasing designs, which meant that they were considering adornment and, thus, acknowledging some form of fashion.
Am I boring you? Check out this rad map of North America showing a range of moccasin designs from different tribes, which cleverly illustrates clothing as identity. In fact, names of nations like the Blackfoot and the Chippewas make reference to their moccasin styles. The moccasin is cool because it originated as a piece of dress that was nearly universal across tribes over 200 years ago (!) yet is still part of contemporary Native American fashion.
As winter approaches, one piece of clothing I’m excited about is the capote. It’s a wrap coat made with a wool blanket. We saw a lot of this popularized during the Fall 1999 collections (yes, 1999, I’m a fashion nerd like that), when designers from DKNY to Jean Paul Gaultier to Comme des Garcons showed blanket-like (almost duvet-like) coats that evoked a sense of protection and envelopment – probably the reasons why they were worn in the first place.
Though variations exist, the common model was the Metis style, featuring a hood, fringes and a ceinture flechee. Check out the capote I found on Esty (below, far right) in the iconic Hudson’s Bay Company style. Bring on the Native American fashion!
Something I’m seeing a lot of (and, admittedly, have boughten into) now is Navajo fashion, particularly the arrow-like patterns on garments. Since it’s so popular, let’s take a moment to learn about the Navajo Indian tribe. The name comes from a Pueblo Indian word for “planted fields” or “farmlands.” They are natives to the American Southwest, specifically Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. They speak Navajo, and it is the most-spoken Native American language in the United States today. Traditional dress items include breechcloths, moccasins and ponchos (how sick would a vintage Navajo poncho be?).
Finally, what would this discussion on Native American fashion be without some modern-day options (below) that you can integrate into your wardrobe today? Plus, now you can share this information when people ask about your dope gear.
Photos (below map): 1- Blanket coats from the Fall 1999 runways; 2- Capote; 3- Capote in traditional Hudson’s Bay Company wool point blanket (sold on Etsy); 4- My shawl, Forever 21; 5- Necklace, Asos; 6- Western Trucker, Levi’s Workwear By Pendleton; 7- Sweater, Topman; 8- Russell Moccasin, J.Crew; 9- Bag, Pendleton