Fashion: Native American or Pilgrim?


The English Pilgrims who, according to popular myth, shared the first Thanksgiving feast with Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe, looked upon the painted faces of their hosts and described their appearance as "savage."

To look at it another way, though, enlightened people of the present might call those Native Americans "fashion forward." Apparently, those original squares — the Pilgrims — didn't recognize the prototype for makeup, one of numerous examples of the great, unrecognized legacy of Indian style.

We have Native Americans to thank for innovating techniques in self-presentation that we foolishly conceive of as modern. And we're not just talking turquoise bracelets and fringe here, either, folks.

Take hair sculpting. Every-one from the executive who Brylcreems his perfect part in place, to the punk who spends hours carefully crafting his bed head, owes it to the natives who spread bear grease across their scalps to style their hair.

Likewise, it's hard to view the recent body-piercing craze as cutting-edge when one realizes that Native Americans decorated their earlobes and noses with bone jewelry four hundred years ago.

Native men and women designed animal-skin pouches to transport incidental belongings (like face paint or a little bear grease, perhaps) equipped with a long strap to sling over one's shoulder to keep their hands free.

The list of Native American fashion firsts goes on. They accessorized with shell jewelry. From animal sinew and wood planks, they fabricated sandals. For treading across the wintry landscape, they made moccasins.

Natives were also centuries ahead of the current eco-fashion movement. What's more renewable than deerskin?

It should be noted that Native Americans created these elements since incorporated into modern fashion with a virtue totally lacking from the fashion industry: resourcefulness.

— Preston Lauterbach


Quick — what comes to mind when you imagine a pilgrim outfit? Maybe a children's Thanksgiving pageant with kids in oversize black hats, breeches, and black boots with shiny silver buckles? That's what came to my mind, anyway, which, hey, isn't really a bad look when you think about it. Black has always been hot. But in reality, what the pilgrims wore differs a bit from our kiddie-costume fodder.

Now, the pilgrims might have been pioneers, but they certainly weren't pioneers of fashion, at least in the beginning. What they brought over (besides smallpox) was the same stuff they wore in the old country, more or less. And thank goodness for that. Thankfully, these brave souls brought shoes, boots, belts, purses (yes, purses), hats, aprons, and capes. Can you imagine a world without these things? The fashion spread in this issue would look decidedly less glam, I can assure you, and there would be no need for places like Joseph. And a world without capes? Think about Elvis for a minute and tell me that capes aren't important.

Not only did they bring these goodies with them, they had the guts to wear them even when the locals were decidedly more casual. Imagine walking into what you thought would be a costume party and being the only one in a costume, for example, and staying in costume all night. Or going to the Sunset Strip and not showing your midriff. Going against the grain takes fashion moxie, and the pilgrims had it. Pilgrim's pride, if you will.

But once here, they had to start over. Hey, those breeches aren't going to last forever, you know? And it's not like they could run down to the dressmaker and order up some new duds, either. They grew crops, like cotton and flax, needed to keep themselves clothed and used vegetable dye to give them a splash of color. Their past lives influenced their new designs, but they adapted and changed with the times. And that, my friends, is the very definition of fashion forward.

— Mary Helen Tibbs

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