Wednesday, June 29, 2016

#ExpressYourself: Shawnee Women's Fashion

Welcome back to the Express Yourself weekly blog meme. Can you believe it's the last week of June already? It seems the summer is flying by so fast!

This week I was asked to write about a fashion trend I would like to see come into style. I'm not really much into fashion. So I thought I would put a spin on the topic and write about Shawnee fashion of the 18th century.


Colonial woman of the 18th century thought the manner in which Shawnee women dressed was scandalous. It is incorrect to believe all Shawnee wore leather during the 18th century. Leather and fur were traded with the British for European goods that the tribe needed in order to survive. If they used all the leather and skins it would be like us wearing money as our clothes. Yet, there were times in their lives that they did use leather and fur in their attire but by the 18th century it was very rare to do so. 

The native dress of the Shawnee woman was meant to allow the women the freedom of movement they would need for her chores and whenever they had to walk long distances between villages. 

The picture to the left shows a re-enactor in a Shawnee outfit of the 18th century. Shawnee women and men wore calico shirts. These shirts came in different colors, depending upon the dye that was available to them. The design was a man's trade shirt. Sometimes the Shawnee would create designs on their shirts. The shirt was loose fitting so the woman could move freely. In the 19th century, the Shawnee would add a ruffle around the collar. 

Women wore wool wraparound skirts that were tied in the front. The Shawnee were known for their beautiful ribbon work. During the 18th century, the ribbon pattern on the skirts were simple, such as the one shown here. This would change in the 19th century to more elaborate forms. 

Beneath the skirt, women would wear wool leggings, just as the men did. During the warm months, women didn't always wear their leggings. 

Every tribe wore different designs on their moccasins. The Shawnee, who were more militant than all the Ohio tribes, didn't wear elaborate beadwork on their moccasins during the 18th century. The Shawnee moccasin covered the entire shin and had fringes on the sides, such as these.  

During the 19th century, the moccasins became shorter and had more elaborate beadwork. 

A Shawnee woman would wear plain clothes on a daily basis. She would dress in her formal, more elaborately decorated attire at festivals, gatherings and when on diplomatic missions. The re-enactor in the picture at the top of the page is dressed in a Shawnee woman's formal attire. Anytime a re-enactor is dressed as a Native American they are displaying formal attire not day to day clothes because in historical times a gathering would be a special occasion. 

Women typically wore beaded necklaces that they made or traded with other tribes. 

The Shawnee had been mining salt and silver from Ohio long before any white person had ever set foot in Ohio. They closely kept secret the locations of the mines from outsiders. A select few men of each tribe were entrusted with the locations of the mines and were held responsible for acquiring the salt and silver needed for the tribe. Women wore silver stranded earrings that the men would make for them. 

Women also carried their belongings in a bag. They used a simple bag for daily work and a more elaborately decorated one for special occasions. 

Shawnee woman kept their hair long but arranged it differently depending on their personal use and if they were at a formal occasions.  Below is the painting "Shawnee Women" by Native American artist, Ruthe Blalock Jones. The painting shows Shawnee women in formal attire. Notice the differences in hair. Shawnee women wore ribbons in their hair when they were at formal events. The hairstyles without the ribbons were generally worn on a day to day basis. 

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