Clothing of Early Days

Links on tanning the Native way:

Native American Hide Tanning Techniques

Native American Hide Curing Techniques

Tanning Hides Step-by-Step

How to Prepare Hides for Tanning

How to tan a hide

Solutions for Tanning a Hide

Pre European contact: the Cherokee people wore a simple standard of clothing which identified them as Woodland Indians.

In the spring and summer months, the men wore  breech cloths, made of deer or buffalo hides, adorned with fringe of leather.  They also wore moccasins.  Their bodies were adorned with a variety of tattoos across their shoulders, chest, abdomen, back and sometimes their face.

In the winter and fall months, their clothing varied to buffalo and bear hide capes or blankets, leather leggings, breech clout, and buffalo shirts, as well as knee high moccasin boots,  mittens, hats made of soft animal furs.  Always they wore over sized, large earrings, and a Gorget necklace.  Some earrings hung to their shoulders.

The women wore only deer hide skirts which were thigh high in the warmer months, and also varied to heavier clothing in the colder months; such as, a shirt which was long to the knees, and a cape top, leather or fur leggings, knee high moccasin boots, fur hats and mittens, and a cape or blanket made from deer or buffalo hide, and also hide vests, adorned with things from nature.  The men also wore arm bands cut from leather strips or made from floral embroidered cloth.  They also had beaded knife cases, with deer antler handles, a small pouch for carrying things, a herbal bag used for keeping medicines in, his personal medicine bag which only he knew the contents and is a highly specialized religious item, also his quiver and arrows as well as his pipe bag with a special pipe inside.

At special ceremonies or such as a wedding ceremony; the woman wore a white doe skin dress, white moccasins which were heavily beaded, white leggings, a cape of egret feathers, shell jewelry and her hair adorned either with the scent of flowers or she added simple trinket decorations.  The men too became beautiful spectacles… they wore a newly tanned and made buck skin shirt, leggings, breech cloth and heavily beaded moccasins, as well as his jewelry.  His hair was braided neatly and smelled of cedar or hickory wood smoke.  Both had prepared their skin in a steam bath and then covered with oils.

An important woman, such as a Chief, Prophetess, Clan Mother, Shaman, or Medicine Woman or the wife and daughter of a Chief wore a slight difference, as pearls or a deer antler necklace.  Some special women such as a Beloved Woman wore an outfit made totally of Swans down and carried a Swan Wing fan, this person was so highly honored by doing special deeds for the people as a whole, such as fighting in a battle… (Nancy Ward, the beloved Cherokee woman, went into battle against 500 Creek warriors with her husband and other Cherokee warrior.  When her husband fell and died,, she picked up his weapons and let their warriors to Chief Attakullachulla in the late 1700’s).  An important man, such as a Chief, Shaman, Medicine Man or a highly ranked warrior could wear an animal teeth or claw necklace.  Only a male or female Chief could wear turquoise or the color blue in their clothing attire.

Some women adorned their dresses with deer and elk teeth, or porcupine quills or shells.  Each woman had two knives on her dress for the day, one worn at the back of the waist, used for hunting and skinning.  The other knife was worn under her dress, tied to her outer upper thigh, this was used for personal protection.  Also they word headbands, mainly to hold back

Their long hair out of their eyes, but at ceremonies or dances, they could be elaborately beaded.  They also adorned their dresses with horse hair, animal teeth and claws, as well as embroidery of forest floral designs.  At special ceremonies, women also wore hair wraps made of soft rabbit, otter, or other animal fur, as well as a pony tie made of the hide and stuffed with animal hair, the pony wrap was worn over the woman's braids and the pony tie held it stable.

 All women also carried their own personal medicine bag, where only each person knew the owners contents, this is a special religious item.  As well as a herbal bag for healing, and a gathering bag which she used for berry picking.  Some who were proven hunters also had a bow and arrows set in their otter quiver bag.  It was smaller than the mens, as the women hunted small animals for food.

 Around 1820-30, the Cherokee had made European contact which influenced their clothing styles.  Men now wore moccasin boots, and leotard pants, as well as calico printed shirts adorned with ribbon and a jacket adorned with a finger woven sash, which hung to their knees.  The jacket was heavily fringed and they wore a turban headdress with it.  They still wore their Gorget necklaces and over-sized earrings.  Men also wore white shirts with bright red or floral designed vests.

 Women's dress style also had changed.  They now wore a floor length calico printed dress made with antler buttons or leather ties.  Low soft moccasins and an apron.  For dressing up, they wore ribbons adorned on the dresses, by the way the ribbons were laid on the dress, it would tell a warrior or other tribe or council the marriage status or availability of the woman wearing the dress.  The Cherokee women also started wearing the Tear dress, torn so from several pieces of material and sewn together.  Women did not need special clothing for pregnancy, as the dresses were made large and full n the skirts to cover the situation.

 Both men and women wore chokers, and according to a persons special ability, they could also carry on them a flute, or turtle shelled rattles.

 At pow wows today, we can see many of the dress styles and designs.  At dances, there were costumes which were worn for special dances; such as the costumes of the Grass dancers, Traditional, or Fancy Shawl dancers, the Jingle dress dancers, Sneak Up and War Society or Dog Night Society warriors.  Masks were worn to symbolize spirits, or to call them into the dance or ceremony.

 And in war, the clothing attire differed vastly, from adding horrendous war paint designs to call on ones personal spirit energy and to frighten their opponents away.  Even in burial the dress style could change, usually to quite elaborate, as native Americans believe that the person will be in high standing in the Dark Lands, if attired eloquently and garbed with the proper weaponry and needed items.

 Even in games, the Cherokees had two teams, one dressed in red designs, the other in blue…by degree of the Chief or Chieftess.

In modern day, for everyday living now, the clothing is worn much like the public.  However, some still wear their traditional clothing in various pieces, you won’t see breech cloths or hide dresses.  But you may see ribbon dresses, moccasins, vests, ribbon shirts, chokers, the various jewelry, pipe bags, purses, and personal medicine bags.

When a Cherokee delegation went to visit the Royal Family of England, the men were thought to be very frightening with their tattooed heads and bodies. It was decided to cover their upper bodies with the English smoking jacket, which became our hunting jacket and cover their heads with a shorter version of the turban of the Muslim house servants of the Royal Family. These introduced styles were well received among the men of the Five Civilized Tribes and continue to be a part of our cultural dress styles.

European colonists had a profound impact on Cherokee clothing. Cherokee men adopted linen shirts and match coats of stroud, a cheap wool. Match coats were similar to ponchos or blankets. When Cherokee ambassadors arrived in London in 1762, they wore silver gorgets, or throat-coverings, and robes edged with braiding. Beaded moccasins, silver armbands and feathers enhanced their appearance.

By the mid-1800s, stroud replaced buckskin for breech-cloths and leggings. The women quickly adapted to European dress. They decorated waistcoats with shells or bead work and wore calico shirts, flounced skirts and fitted bodices.


Because of the Southeast's mild winter and hot, long summer, Creeks wore little clothing.  Men wore deerskin breechcloths. Women wore skirts made of deerskin or of cloth woven from rabbit hair, Spanish moss, or cotton.  Both men and women sometimes wore grass shawls over one shoulder.  In summer, children wore no clothes at all until they were about twelve.  (Newman, S.P., 1996 The Creek)

Cherokee women also  made clothing from the animal skins.  But the men usually made and repaired their own moccasins. (Lepthien, E.U., 1985 The Cherokee)