TRADITIONAL APPEARANCELiving off what was available in their natural surroundings, theHaudenosaunee made clothing from woven natural fibers, hides from elk or deer, and furs from woodland animals like rabbits or bears. Even corn husks could me used to make moccasins.
The deer was one of the most important animals for the Haudenosaunee nations as every part was used. Its meat provided nourishment, its hides were used for clothing, the sinew was used for thread and its bones were used as tools or ornaments. Hides were tanned and stretched into soft leather before being used for clothing or footwear. This was done by soaking the skins for several days before loosening any fur and drying it. Smoking the skins produced a different colour and made the hides water resistant.
Men and women added embellishments to their clothing using wooden beads, feathers and porcupine quills. These embellishments could be symbols of clans or artistic expressions of the creation story. Deer hooves were also used on dancer regalia to create a jingling garter. Once Europeans began to settle in North America other fibers and decorations were introduced and women began to make clothing out of broadcloth. The Haudenosaunee people also began to replace the wooden beads with glass ones and used more synthetic fibers. While the materials changed the styles remained the same.
By 1900s most Haudenosaunee families were wearing the same clothing as the settlers opting for suits over breechcloths and leggings. As the styles changed throughout the century the Haudenosaunee adopted jeans and t-shirts common on most people today. To this day however most nations still wear traditional clothing to long house ceremonies or special events.
The primary garment for men of most nations was breech cloth. This was a long rectangular piece of cloth or sometimes soft buckskin worn between the legs and secured on a belt. This type of clothing is also known as breechclout, loincloth or clout. For special occasions a man might also wear an apron or breechcloth cover. This is a specially embroidered panel with intricate beadwork or embellished with porcupine quills. To cover bare legs men wore long leggings which connected to the belt on their breechcloth. Men might also wear kilts made of soft skins.
Every nation had some type of moccasin or foot covering. Mocassins were low, soft soled foot coverings made of tougher buckskins. Some had decorated flaps that were sewn on after the original construction was done making them easier to remove and add to new moccasins when the old ones wore out. Because they were not always the most durable on hunting trips extra moccasins were often brought along. In the winter moccasins were often made of bear skins with the fur turned inside.
Finally gustoweh were an important piece of men’s clothing as it was a piece of his identity. A gustoweh is a frame or cap headpiece decorated with beads and most importantly feathers attached in a way that distinguished different nations. For example the Mohawk nation’s gustoweh contains three upright eagle feathers.
Women generally wore skirts and tunics or poncho type shirts or dresses. Simple skirts could be a large piece of hide tied around the waste, but could be fringed at the bottom. Women might wear breechcloths underneath their skirts or dresses but they were never worn as outer clothing. Women also wore leggings but theirs were often shorter only coming up to just above the knee. Women’s moccasins were much the same as men though cut slightly different. Women did not wear gustowehs but would cover their heads in a wrap or hood in colder weather.
Children and Babies
Haudenosaunee children dressed in similar clothing to their parents including breech cloths and tunics. The clothing for children was to promote free movement and independance. Babies were usually swaddled and carried on a cradle board until they were old enough to walk.