Sunday, December 19, 2010

BB: Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume by Josephine Paterek

For Native American Heritage Month, one of the books I heavily relied upon for the research and documentation was this text, the Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume by Josephine Paterek. It's over 500 pages of documentation, photographs, and appendices that could tell you everything you would want to know about the styles of dress that Native Americans wore, how they were constructed, and how the materials used were gathered.

The tribes are categorized into geographical regions of the United States and even includes seperate sections for the California coast peoples, the Plateau, and the Sub-Arctic. From there the regions are broken up into entries for the predominate tribes that include traditional pre-contact dress and the transitional dress of the 18th-20th centuries. Within these well-sourced entries there are sections for women's and men's attire, makeup/body painting/tattoos, decoration, hairstyles, ceremonial dress, and accessories with appropriate photographs accompanying them.

A Metis-Lakota outfit from Canada, 19th century
Admittedly the book could be a little better illustrated- as it is a book about art (essentially) and I feel the visual element was underrepresented in a few of the regions like the Northeast. My other issue is that Paterek refers to native clothing as 'costume' which is both a social and spiritual faux-pas amongst Native Americans (the polite term is regalia, or in a pinch, attire). However, this nomenclature doesn't make the book any less useful or impressive, and it's thoroughness is unparalleled. One of my favorite touches are the appendices at the beginning of the book explaining materials, dyestuffs, and colors available by region and animal species and how they were gathered. It really puts things into context and makes you even more impressed by the beauty and workmanship of this clothing.

If you're interested in Native American clothing and customs, then this book is for you- and you can readily find it used given its age.


  1. You are correct... regalia would be how my family would refer to our traditional wear. Although, my greatgrandma would laugh at that. I can see her now... "Only the non natives wear moccasins but they will never be able to walk them like we did."

    Is this Josephine a descendant of any of the hundreds of tribes. I find it very hard to use info from anyone who isn't.

    Mad Scientist

  2. Mad Scientist-

    I'm not sure as to Professor Paterek's descent, but I do know that she took ten years to sit down and research this book- so I can assure you that it was done right despite her slip-up in appropriate terminology. I do understand your concerns though, but if the book is well-researched and objective (which it is) I don't think we should hold her costuming rather than Native background against her.

  3. Spiritual faux-pas would be women or men wearing any type of hair feathers representing eagle or other, ROACHES ON WOMEN, allowing oneself to be photographed in regalia while drinking alcohol Miss Kagashi. Feathers and roaches are EARNED and bestowed upon men as a rite of passage or in recognition of deeds. For all of your writing against cultural appropriation, it appears that you are guilty. Shame on you when years of alcohol abuse has decimated the population that you say you find your heritage in.

    If you REALLY want to research the clothing of a particular tribe or group, go to members of that tribe. Most nations have websites along with resources that are reputable for you to review. There is also usually an email where you can contact someone who will refer you to the appropriate resources.

    While you can say that your regalia is inspired by something in particular, be sure that if you are going to wear a piece that is intimately tied to that nations identity, or is a merit or spiritual item, then you should be a recognized member of that nation. Take the time to KNOW and EDUCATE YOURSELF about what is spiritual, tribal and what is appropriate.
    See and