Splendidly Dressed: American Indian Robes & Regalia

Belt. Probably Manitoba Ojibwa; ca. 1800; hide, trade cloth, wooden sticks, porcupine quills, glass beads, enameled metal buttons; 24.75"L x 2,25"W. The Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York.

Splendidly Dressed: American Indian Robes and Regalia
March 30–December 29, 2013

The dress of Native American people was, and remains, exceedingly varied in its expression and design. Splendidly Dressed: American Indian Robes and Regalia combines masterful examples of dress, footwear, headgear, jewelry and accessories from the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art.

The fiber skirts, buffalo robes, feathered war bonnets, and woven hats in Splendidly Dressed show the exceeding variety in expression and design of Native American clothing. "[Fashion] represents one of the most basic and compelling of artistic impulses … the art of personal adornment,” according to Lloyd “Kiva” New. People around the world adorn their children and themselves in elaborate clothing and regalia to express cultural and personal values. In celebrations, ceremonies, and public gatherings, clothing communicates wealth and honors individuals. Clothing is also powerfully interwoven with spiritual beliefs and can be worn to placate and harbor power in the universe. Many cultures associate proper attire with protection or success in earthly matters, such as those encountered in warfare or hunting. Oral tradition uses designs on garments as devices for stories.

Early Native American clothing was made from materials such as hide, feathers, plant fibers and pigments. With the arrival of Europeans in the 1500s came the introduction of metal tools, wool and cotton textiles, and glass beads. Changing fashions quickly emerged, incorporating new technologies and materials with traditional designs to create unique, expertly constructed, artistic, and highly valued garments. Today at powwows and other festive gatherings, artists and dancers continue to refine their personal regalia to reflect the trending fashions.