‘Native Haute Couture’ to Celebrate the History of Native American Fashion

Posted By Toyacoyah Brown January 25th, 2015 Blog


If you're a fashionista and in the Chicagoland area, don't miss out on this new exhibit!

The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian will be presenting a new exhibit featuring “Native Haute Couture” on January 31. This year-long exhibit will celebrate the history of Native American high fashion from pre-contact to today. There will be many unique and priceless garments on display that showcase American Indian artistry and expertise in tanning, weaving, embroidery, beadwork and tailoring. From runways to pow wows, ceremonies and celebrations of tribal culture, Native Americans have always had a sense of high fashion and adornment.

Prior to European contact, well established indigenous trade routes throughout North and Central America carried copper, prized dyed quills, carved bones and drilled and carved shells to embellish custom clothing. Now recognized as uniquely American Indian designs, Native American artisans embraced and shaped new and exotic materials including South American macaw feathers, European glass beads and Spanish silvers.

Dance Necklace, Crow of Montana, ca. 1950 Gift of John Mitchell

Dance Necklace, Crow of Montana, ca. 1950 Gift of John Mitchell

“Native Haute Couture” will feature exquisite examples of late 19th and early 20th century garments, footwear and accessories from tribes across the United States. These pieces reflect the incorporation of many European influenced trade goods and designs in traditional Native dress. Among the items on display are a Sioux dress from ca. 1915 made of elk skin with a beaded yolk in a geometric design, a Cheyenne child’s dress from the 1950s that is navy piped with red ribbon, and a signature scarf from “Project Runway” finalist Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo).

While the exhibit will lay the historical foundation for Native Haute Couture, special programs throughout the year will feature some of the hottest Native designers and fashion influencers in high fashion today. Modern indigenous designers are creating fashions often reflecting their own tribal connection with artistic stitches.

Even during painful historical periods of forced assimilation, including the Reservation and Boarding School eras when tribal clothing was banned across the US and Canada, Native people still found small accessories and embellishments to sustain their cultural connections while wearing Western clothing. The popularity of American Indian designs during Westward expansion of the 1850s and today embolden copycat products by non-Natives. Today, Native artists and several tribes are fighting back to claim ownership and authenticity of their traditional designs and heritage. Native American designers are also forging new cutting edge looks on fashion runways.

Cuffs, hide, quillwork, Teton Sioux, Artist: New Holy Family, Alice Blue Legs, ca. 1970 Gift of Adolf Link.

Cuffs, hide, quillwork, Teton Sioux, Artist: New Holy Family, Alice Blue Legs, ca. 1970 Gift of Adolf Link.

For more information about the Mitchell Museum of The American Indian, visit www.mitchellmuseum.org or call 847-475-1030. The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, students and children. Free for Mitchell Museum members and Tribal members!

About Toyacoyah Brown

Toyacoyah Brown is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation, currently living in Chicago. She received her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an M.A. in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. When she's not scouring the Internet for fun things to share with PowWows.com readers you can find her digging for vinyl in her local record store or curling up with a good book.

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