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Men's Shirt & Leggings

Men's Shirt Men's Leggings

The Men's Shirt (left) above is only one of many different styles.
The Men's Leggings (right) are also only one of many different styles.

The following description of shirts and leggings gives us some idea of men's dress clothing worn in the early 1800's. According to Maximilian:

"The dress of the Blackfoot is made of tanned leather, and the handsomest leather shirts are made of the skin of the bighorn, which, when new, is of a yellowish-white color, and looks very well. A narrow strip of the skin with the hair is generally left at the edge of such a skin. These shirts have half sleeves, and the seams are trimmed with tufts of human hair, or of horsehair dyed of various colors, hanging down, and with porcupine quills sewn round their roots. These shirts generally have at the neck a flap hanging down both before and behind, which are usually lined with red cloth, ornamented with fringe, or with stripes of yellow and colored porcupine quills, or of sky-blue glass beads. Some have all these fringes composed of slips of white ermine; this is a very costly ornament, these little animals having become scarece. Many of the distinguished chiefs and warriors wore such dresses, which are really handsome, ornamented with many strings hanging down, in the fashion of a Hungerian tobacco pouch. When these leather shirts begin to be dirty, they are often painted of a reddish-brown color; but they are much handsomer when they are new. Some of these Indians wear on the breast and back round rosettes like the Assiniboins, but this is only a foreign fashion, and the genuine Blackfoot costume has no such ornament. Their leggings are made like those of the other Missouri Indians, and ornamented, in the same manner, with tufts of hair or stripes of porcupine quills; the shes, of buffalo or elk leather, are also adorned with porcupine quills, each having a ground of a different color for its ornaments; thus if one is white, the other is yellow..."

The old style buckskin shirts were basically made from two large hides of Deer or Sheep. The hides were divided into two separate pieces, one larger then the other. The larger section forms the body, while the shorter section is folder in half to make a sleeve. All the leg pieces were left on and fringed, and the tails were left also. The main pieces, ready to put together. The sleeves were to short to cover the whole arm, leaving the hands free for work like hunting of fighting. The forelegs hung down by the wearer's armpits. The sleeves were sewn to the main body, which was also sewn across the shoulders. However, the sides were not sewn, but only tied together with thongs.

These old shirts always had quilled or beaded strips sewn down over the shoulders, and usually along the sleeves as well. All exposed edges were either fringed or notched. Common shirts had fringes along the bottoms of the sleeves. The average length of these was perhaps six or eight inches. Some tribes liked fringes a foot or two in length, but this was not a traditional Blackfoot style.

In addition to the common fringed shirts there used to be a great many Holy Shirts, decorated with Weasel skins or hairlocks. Such shirts can usually be recognized by their coatings of Sacred Paint--red or yellow--which was applied during and after special ceremonies of initiation. This is the significance of Earth-coated shirts, mentioned above by Maximilian, not the fact that they began to "get dirty." Those without paint are simply common shirts, not ceremonial ones. By 1900 even the hind legs were generally cut off, so that shirts began to look very tailored.

Men's traditional leggings are basically tubes of buckskin long enough to reach from the ankles to the hips. At the outside, top, each legging has a strap by which is tied to the man's belt. The leggings usually matched the shirt, in design and decorations, when a new suit was made. However, leggings wore out much sooner than shirts, so that unmatched suits were common. Many sacred shirts were transferred without leggings, for this reason. Ordinary leggings were the used, instead. The making of each hide legging requires nearly a whole hide. As with shirts, old-time leggings often drug on the ground, but later styles were tailored for straight, ankle-length cuffs and even side seams. The pair of leggings above are of buckskin from the later 1800's. The natural shape of the hides can still be recognized, but the leggings style is much more tailored than an very old pair. Beaded strips take the place of the quilled ones, although a few Real Beads can be seen on the quilled strips, where they were added during repairs. The legging are decorated with hairlocks and were worn with matching shirts by noted warriors. The black strips represent major coups of the original owners.

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