Native American tribes of the Plains and elsewhere had long created garments with fringe, which served as a type of gutter that repelled rainwater from the wearer. Fringe was a border or edge of hanging threads, cords, or strips, and was often found on garments made from suede, leather, and buckskin. Fringe first became a decorative fashion embellishment in the 1920s as part of the flapper look, a popular dress style for women. Skirts suddenly rose above the knee for the first time in Western history, and fringe was used to add a bit of length to the daring styles. But the use of Native American fringe was an outgrowth of the hippie movement of the late 1960s, a youth movement that stressed the rejection of mainstream values and a relaxation of standards of morality and personal conduct. The movement had a huge impact on mainstream society. Young Americans of the era were keenly interested in civil rights. The political gains made by African Americans earlier in the decade had spurred interest in the plight of other oppressed minority groups, including Native Americans. Wearing fringe became a way of showing sympathy for the Native American cause.
The 1969 Hollywood film Easy Rider helped popularize the fringe look as a fashion statement more than a political one. The tale of two drifters who "dropped out" of society, the cult hit featured unique clothing styles. The stars, Peter Fonda (c. 1939–) and Dennis Hopper (1936–), wore casual jackets, and Hopper's fringed brown suede jacket produced an artful effect when he rode his motorcycle. Fringed vests made from brown buckskin were also quite popular at the time, and a store called Tepee Town in Midtown Manhattan offered these and many other Indian looks, including moccasin boots and beaded belts. Designer Giorgio di Sant'Angelo (1933–1989) copied parts of elaborate Native American ceremonial dress for his fall 1970 collection. His designs won the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics' Award. A backlash began around this time, championed by Native American folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie (1941–). She deemed the wearing of such items insensitive to Native Americans of the contemporary era, many of whom lived in great poverty. By the mid-1970s fringe had mainly gone out of style.
Ickeringill, Nan. "We're Stealing from the Indians, Again." New York Times (July 22, 1968): 38.
"The Indian Style." Look (October 20, 1970): 42–49.
Klemesrud, Judy. "Fighting a War on Behalf of Indians." New York Times (October 24, 1970): 20.