In most tribes, Native American men wore breechclouts or breechcloths (a long rectangular piece of hide or cloth tucked over a belt, so that the flaps fell down in front and behind), sometimes with leather leggings attached in colder climates. In other tribes Indian men wore a short kilt or fur trousers instead of a breechcloth. Most Indian men did not use shirts, but Plains Indian warriors wore special buckskin war shirts decorated with ermine tails, hair, and intricate quillwork and beadwork. Most Native American women wore skirts and leggings, though the length, design, and material of the skirts varied from tribe to tribe. In some Indian cultures women’s shirts were optional and were usually treated more like coats, while in others, women always wore tunics or mantles in public. And in other tribes women usually wore one-piece dresses instead, like this Cheyenne buckskin dress. Nearly all Native Americans had some form of moccasin (a sturdy leather shoe) or mukluk (heavier boot), with the styles of footwear differing from tribe to tribe (as you can see from these mocasin pictures). Most tribes used cloaks in colder weather, but some of the northern tribes wore Inuit-style fur parkas instead. Most variable of all were headgear and formal clothing, which were different in nearly every tribe.
After colonization, Native American clothes began to change. For one thing, as Indian tribes were driven from their ancient lands and forced into closer contact with each other, they began to borrow some of each other’s tribal dress, so that fringed buckskin clothing, feather headdresses, and woven blankets became popular among Indians outside of the tribes in which they originated. For another, Indians began to adapt some articles of European costume to their own style, decorating cloth garments with characteristic Native American beadwork, embroidery, and designs. These clothes were not original to the Americas, but by the 1800′s they were recognized by anyone viewing them as Indian apparel. Such post-colonial native dress includes beaded jackets and shirts, ribbon shirts, Seminole patchwork skirts, satin shawls, woolen sweaters, broad ribbon applique, jingle dresses, and the Cherokee tear dress. Today, most Native Americans wear contemporary American and Canadian clothes in their daily life; however, unique American Indian clothing styles still exist. Some traditional Indian garments, such as buckskins, ribbon dresses, and beaded moccasins, are still worn in many tribes, particularly to formal events. Others, such as breechcloth, leggings, headdress and dance shawl, are only worn at powwows and religious ceremonies. In general, American Indians use the word “regalia” for traditional clothing which is used for ceremonial occasions. Some native people find the phrase “Native American costume” offensive, due to long association with hurtful red-faced Halloween costumes.