In cool weather or rough terrain men and women of nearly every Native American tribe wore leggings to protect their legs. Leggings were snug or loose-fitting tubes of animal hide that covered each leg individually. Men's leggings covered the leg from waist or thigh to ankle. The top of the leggings was tied to a string, belt, or sash wrapped around the waist, and sometimes the leggings were gartered, or tied, at the knee. The leggings resembled crotchless pants and men wore them with breechclouts, or loincloths.
Women's leggings were similarly made of animal skin, but they only covered the leg from the knee to the ankle. Garters or ties at the knee held women's leggings in place under their long skirts. In the winter the leggings of both men and women were often made with attached feet, or moccasins. Only the peoples of the Arctic did not wear some form of legging, instead wearing a full pair of trousers to protect against the cold.
The most common hide for making leggings was deer, although beaver, buffalo, skunk, and wolf were also used. Northwest tribes even used the skin of salmon. In hotter regions and in the summertime in the north, leggings were made of finely tanned hide. For winter, leggings were made of animal skins with the fur turned toward the leg. The bottoms and edges of leggings were sometimes fringed or decorated with ornaments, such as beadwork, painted designs, or ribbons. Leggings were often striped or designed to signify spirits or war victories. As contact with Europeans became more common in the seventeenth century, Native Americans began to make leggings out of purchased wool cloth. Soon full trousers replaced leggings.
Hofsinde, Robert. Indian Costumes. New York: William Morrow, 1968.
Hungry Wolf, Adolf. Traditional Dress: Knowledge and Methods of Old-Time Clothing. Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Co., 1990.
Paterek, Josephine. Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1994.