Paula J. and Donald R. Sanders

Purpose of Study

An analysis of the social, economic, and political factors that helped determine the dress and adornment of the Indians indigenous to the Southeastern part of the United States from pre-European contact until the beginning of the twentieth century.

The following is a synopsis of the book. Its purpose is to paint a very brief picture of the evolution of the dress and adornment of the Southeast Indians so that the reader will be better able to analyze and utilize the facts contained in this work.

At the time of first contact, the attire worn by the Southeastern Indians was determined more by climatic factors than by tribal affiliation. The Indians who lived in the tropical climate of Florida used natural vegetation to create their sparse coverings while those who lived farther north, utilized materials that were more appropriate to the climate and, also, more available for the creation of their garments.

The clothing of the Indians was practical in nature. Moccasins and leggings were worn as garments for protection. For everyday activities, the men wore little else than a form of breechclout and the women wore a short skirt that wrapped around their waist. The materials used varied from palm fronds in Florida to woven or twined fabrics made from pounded roots in southern Louisiana to fiber created from bison hair as well as animal skins further north.

For adornment the Indians tattooed and painted their bodies; hung decorations made from shells and other natural materials from their ears, nose, and necks; and adorned their head with roaches made from animal hair and feathers. Those Indians from the more southern regions made blankets and mantles from interwoven bird feathers while those in the more northern areas used tanned animal skins.

When the White man first had contact with the Indians, the former bought their allegiance with presents of European clothes, especially in the form of shirts. The Indians adopted these shirts early on in their interaction with the Europeans. This trend of adding European garments to their own continued for the next few centuries.

As the Indians continued to interact with, first, the Europeans and, later, the Americans, as well as to intermarry with them, they expanded their adoption of the dress of the White man.

With the progression of time, their dress continued to be motivated by factors other than tribal allegiances. By the eighteenth century, their attire was determined by socio-economic factors and by involvement with the White man either through marriage or politics.

As the Indians added European and, then, American garb to their early forms of dress and began to cover more of themselves, they substituted jewelry for tattooing and painting; many, however, still painted their bodies and faces to portray a desire for war, peace, etc.

By the mid nineteenth century, a majority of these Indians wore basically the garb of the White man impregnated with small modifications and individual preferences. A continuum can be drawn from those who dressed completely as White men and women to those, usually full bloods, who adopted little of the White man's clothing.

Not only did the Indians adopt the clothing of the White man, but some White men -trappers, hunters, and frontiersmen - adopted the breechclout, moccasins, and leggings of the Indian males. The hunting shirt commonly depicted with fringes and made of buckskin was an amalgamation of articles of clothing used by the White man and the Indian. As will be shown through out this book, while the Indians originally from the Southeast adopted as well as adapted much of the dress of the White man, the latter, also, configured some of the attire of the Indians to meet his needs.