Native American tribes of the North American continent and the peoples of the Subarctic and Arctic have a long and rich history. Archaeologists, scientists who study past civilizations, believe that people have lived in North America from about 13,000 B.C.E.
The clothing of Native Americans was closely related to the environment in which they lived and their religious beliefs. Ranging from tropical and desert regions, to woodlands and mountains, to Arctic tundra, Native Americans developed diverse styles of clothing.
For Native Americans, blankets have not only been garments worn for warmth, but also a source of artistic expression and a valuable trading commodity that provided economic self-sufficiency. Blankets were worn most commonly draped around the shoulders much like a cloak.
Abreechclout was a garment designed to cover the genitals. Although breechclouts were worn by some women in the Southeast and by young girls before puberty in many tribes, they were an important male garment that symbolized male sexuality and power in many tribes.
A cloak, or outer draped garment that looks like a cape, was used by almost every Native American tribe since the beginning of their civilizations. Made of a square, circular, or rectangular piece of cloth, a cloak was most often pinned at the neck and draped over the shoulders and hung down the back to the ankles.
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.
While the most common garment for Native American men was a breechclout, or loincloth, for women it was the skirt. Although Native American women did throw a cloak around their shoulders for warmth, the skirt was often worn without any covering for the upper body.
The hairstyles and headwear of the Native American tribes and the indigenous peoples of the Subarctic and Arctic are many and varied. Styles differed from tribe to tribe, and within tribes due to gender, age, and social status.
Indians across North America smeared bear grease, or bear fat, and other oils on their hair to make it shine. Similar substances for smoothing and shining the hair were raccoon fat and deer marrow, a material found inside bones.
Next to long, flowing hair, braids are perhaps the most common hairstyle of Native Americans throughout history. Braiding, also known as plaiting, is a hair weaving technique that involves crossing three or more bunches of hair over each other.
The tall, feathered headdress has come to be one of the most recognizable symbols of the Native American people of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Books and movies about Indians often picture them wearing the large feathered headdresses that white people called "war bonnets," and many children around the world have toy versions of the feathered headdress that they use to "play Indian." In reality there were hundreds of Indian nations throughout the Americas and only a few tribes who lived in the western plains of the United States wore that type of elaborate headdress.
The Mohawk hairstyle is distinguished by a ridge of hair sticking straight up, running down the center of the head from the forehead to the nape of the neck, with the rest of the head shaved. It originated among Native American tribes in North America and Canada and was often not made of human hair but rather of a "deer roach," a piece of deer tail with skin and fur attached and worn atop the head.
Native Americans across the North American continent adorned their bodies in a variety of different ways. From designs applied directly to the skin to elaborate ornaments crafted of symbolic materials, Native American body decoration was very important to the religious and social life of tribal members.
Documentation of Native American ornament dates back several thousands of years. Although styles and designs for jewelry differed among different peoples, all Native Americans held in common the belief that ornament had spiritual meaning.
Tattooing was practiced among members of Native American tribes for thousands of years. Native Americans tattooed themselves by cutting their skin with sharp objects and rubbing dye into the cuts.
Native American tribes have used body paint from their first appearance in North America in about 10,000 B.C.E., both to psychologically prepare for war as well as for visual purposes.
The North American continent has been occupied since 10,000 B.C.E. and active civilizations have been recorded across the continent as far back as 3,000 B.C.E.
While many Native Americans went barefoot, even in the snow, most tribes developed a favorite style of shoe called a moccasin. Made out of tanned animal skins, or sometimes plant fiber, moccasins protected men, women, and children's feet from rough terrain.