Have you ever worn a prairie skirt and bonnet to school?  Suspenders and a top hat to church?  Of course not!  Even though your ancestors may have worn such things, you wear today’s styles.  Haudenosaunee people today don’t dress like their ancestors either.  For everyday, they wear jeans, sneakers, tee-shirts and baseball caps just like you and me! 


For special occasions such as ceremonies, weddings, graduations, or powwows, Haudenosaunee may wear special outfits.  These clothes are made in a traditional or older style. 

A traditional outfit for a man or boy might include a ribbon shirt, breechcloth, leggings and sash.  A traditional outfit for a woman or girl might include an overdress, skirt and leggings.  These clothes are made from cloth or leather and usually include moccasins.  Accessories such as silver or bead jewelry, barrettes, wampum, bolo ties and pendants can also be part of an outfit.  Sometimes these accessories, especially those with Clan animal symbols, are worn with everyday clothes too. 


Haudenosaunee call these traditional clothes “outfits” and not “costumes.”  A costume is what a person wears when they pretend to be something or someone else.  When Haudenosaunee wear their traditional clothing, they are not pretending to be anything else – they are showing pride in being Haudenosaunee!

The parts of a traditional outfit are often very special.  Sometimes they are created as a gift for an accomplishment like a graduation or an event like a baby’s naming ceremony.  Sometimes parts of an outfit are handed down from one generation to the next.  Often, making an outfit is something that a mother and daughter or aunt and niece may do together.  Wearing a traditional outfit connects Haudenosaunee to their families, their communities, and relatives who may have passed on.


Early Haudenosaunee had no fabric of the sort that we have today.  Instead their clothing was constructed from animal skins.  Deer, moose, and elk were valued for their thick hides. Furs from beavers, bears, and wolves were needed for warmth. The basic pieces of clothing were moccasins, leggings, skirts for women, breechcloths for men, a wrap to cover the upper part of the body and robes of fur for cold weather.  Accessories were made of shell, bone, antler, clay, feathers, and other natural materials. 

Cloth was introduced to the Haudenosaunee by European traders and quickly became an important trade item.  At first, Haudenosaunee used the cloth to make their own style of clothing. By the 1700s, calico and flannel cloth became popular for men’s and women’s outfits.  Finished items from Europe like military coats and linen shirts, glass beads and silver jewelry were also introduced.  For the first time, Native clothing began to feature sleeves!  Before long, Haudenosaunee women and men began to adopt the styles of their European neighbors.  Women were soon wearing knee length fancy petticoats and blouses.  Others preferred broadcloth skirts and colorful calico overdresses decorated with ribbons and silver. Men chose flannel and broadcloth hunting shirts. Sometimes they even wore the fancy ruffled shirts sported by European men at that time.


Despite the popularity of the new styles, Haudenosaunee continued to preserve some of their own way of dressing.  As late as the 1850’s men preferred old style leather leggings and even European style outfits were accessorized with porcupine quills, beads, fringe, and shell.

By the 1900’s, most Haudenosaunee dressed in the same way as their European neighbors.  Traditional clothing was reserved only for special occasions.

During this time a show style of dress was invented that combined styles from other Native American nations with Iroquois styles. Plains Indian clothing, accessories and designs became fashionable. Outfits were often made of tan and brown cloth to resemble leather.  Shoulders, sleeves, pant legs and skirt bottoms were fringed. The large Plains style feather headdress also became quite popular.


What you choose to wear is an important part of your own identity.  Today, most Haudenosaunee prefer to wear their own style designs rather than those of other Native nations.  The choice of colors, pattern and beadwork on a person’s traditional outfit is individual.  But, wearing such an outfit for a ceremony or other special event also unites the Haudenosaunee with one another.


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