Over the past decade, there has been a resurgence of interest in Native American fashion. In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, we wanted to explore a historic summary of Native American fashion and its influence on modern apparel. Besides helping you to avoid cultural appropriation, the goal is always to educate ourselves in other cultures as a form of respect and also help you to better understand the roots of some of your favorite Bohemian style fashion.
So let's chat about it....Have you noticed that there seems to be a mainstream embracing of feathers, headdresses, tomahawks, warpaint, crystals, Minnetonka’s, dream catchers, beaded jewelry, turquoise jewelry, abalone jewelry, and leather? These are all aspects of Native American fashion have become increasingly common. And let’s face it, these are all elements of Women’s Modern bohemian fashion today but what’s the meaning behind them all?
Feathers - widely believed among Native American’s to signify the connection between The Creator, the owner of the feather, and the bird from whom the feather came. Deeply revered, the feather symbolizes high honor, power, wisdom, trust, strength, and freedom. As such, feathers are seen as gifts from the sky.
Dream catchers - Native American cultures believe that both good and bad dreams fill the air at night. The dreamcatcher is a protective talisman that is used to protect people from nightmares and bad dreams.
Beaded Jewelry - a symbol of wealth, used in marriage ceremonies, trade agreements, and treaties. Some beadwork patterns involve ritualistic use and were often used in spiritual dances and celebrations.
Leather - Native Americans were highly respectful of nature and made it a point to never waste any part of the animal. Leather, fur, feathers and bone were all used to make decorative costumes, clothing and other ceremonial accessories.
Interestingly in the late 16th century, beads on ribbons and red rouge across the cheeks came into Vogue for beauty. Furs, pearls, snakeskins, and feathers from America also came into demand for export in Europe for use in jewelry, haberdashery, fashion accessories, and furniture inlay.
Another interesting occurrence, is that exchanges of fashion went both ways. While upper-class English wore American feathers and furs, its been said that Native Americans prized English woven fabrics and garments, and tailored shirts were a particular favorite. Algonquians sewed patches of woolen cloth with beads and dyed porcupine quills to embellish their clothing.
Navajo blankets are one of the strongest Native American fashion influences on American culture today. Navajo weaving is so special because each piece tells a story. The weavers created geometric shapes that represented the surrounding mountainous terrain as well as objects and creatures such as clouds, owls, lizards, and turtles. Many of the signature Navajo blankets featured more abstract patterns that were also inspired by the weavers’ lives and surroundings.
When Americans discovered the Navajo blankets it was the defining point in time that Native American fashion had really started to penetrate American culture as a whole. Around 1910, these patterns started emerging in home furnishings like curtains and couch covers. Shortly after, Native American designs were frequently used by cowboys as saddle blankets.
Then in the 1970s and 80s, American fashion designer Ralph Lauren launched his Santa Fe clothing line featuring sweaters, petticoat skirts, blanket jackets, concha belts, and other apparel imbued with Native American fashion designs. In the 1990s these patterns saw a resurgence, mainly due to the rise of contemporary country music and Southwestern aesthetics in general.
While these Native American fashion trends have now been rebranded as modern bohemian fashion and are especially common at mainstream music festivals such as Coachella, they have clearly infiltrated many other aspects of youth culture. Pendleton—the company that started it all—launched an urban line in 2011, and stores like Urban Outfitters are still pushing Native American-inspired clothing and accessories.
So just remembers sisters...We’re so glad you took the time to read this short article to educate yourself. We believe it’s important to continue to listen to what today’s Native Americans have to say to help you appreciate the context of the many gifts that Native Americans gave not just to the fashionistas among us, but to the world as a whole. Native American culture has a strong and pleasing aesthetic that tends to include unique patterns and vibrant colors, so it’s really not surprising that it has infiltrated the world of modern Bohemian fashion. It’s trendy and cool but only when done tastefully and respectfully.