Time to Give Thanks: A Mini Guide to Traditional Native American Clothing and Accessories

Categories: Fashion

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Learn more about Moccasins....did you "rock your mocs" November 15?
Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday: It's non-secular, easy to embrace, and often includes a good dose of shopping -- but Thanksgiving this year seems to have brought an "open season" on depictions and appropriations of Native American culture.

Instead of concentrating on the mis-guided outfits like Karlie Kloss in a "headdress" for Victoria's Secret and "Native" outfits as uniforms at Hooters, it's time to take a closer look at some items, clothing and accessories traditionally associated with Native culture by the media and the public.

Want to learn just a bit more about the Native communities in our country? Think of this a mini-refresher guide.

See also:
- Bloggers Adrienne Keene and Dr. Jessica Metcalfe on Native Headdresses, Patterns, and "Aztec" Labels in Popular Fashion
- Urban Outfitters Pulls Navajo Name from Collection

Anyone with even a passing interest in Native cultures can learn more about the diverse ways of Native American and First Nations people by looking to items made by Native peoples. We tracked down Native fashion blogger Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe and Heard Museum curators to talk about the traditional wear and the meanings behind them. (Full disclosure, the author of this post is a former employee of the Heard Museum.)

"We try everyday to inspire others and to inspire our children and grandchildren to carry these things forward," says academic and Beyond Buckskin Native fashion blogger Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe, Turtle Mountain Chippewa.

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Take the time to learn why headdresses are worn by leaders.
Headdresses & Feathers

"The headdress is still immensely significant to many Native communities," says Metcalfe. Headdresses of course are made of feathers, many of eagle feathers, which hold a special meaning.

"That's what makes it so important, are the feathers," says Marcus Monenerkit, Assistant Curator and Associate Registrar at the Heard Museum, referring to the headdress.

While feathers are important to many tribes, headdresses are often worn by leaders of tribes from the Plains states in everything from parades to special ceremonies. Its "safe to make the generalization that there's a special respect offered to those in the role," says Monenerkit, Comanche.

Similar to a US solider who wears his or her military uniform at a wedding, funeral or special event; a Native person wearing a headdress is typically someone in a special role or leadership position. Bottom line, to take away its specialness by trotting out a non-Native made "headdress" as a trend or "nod" to Thanksgiving is not a good idea.

While not all groups of Native peoples wear headdresses as a part of their culture, feathers-- especially Eagle feathers-- should be treated with respect.

Location Info


Heard Museum

2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ

Category: General

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