Man's costume

From the Plains, North America
Before AD 1825

This man's costume is from the North American Plains. The shirt is made of heavy skin, possibly elk, and is tightly tailored in Western fashion and fringed. It is decorated with a neck piece of red cloth manufactured at Stroud in England (obtained in exchange for skins by fur trading companies), as well as plain white beads. These, as well as two circular pieces of quillwork, suggest that the shirt was made in the early nineteenth century. The loose leggings, made of much finer skin, perhaps antelope, are also decorated with quillwork.

Men's costume at the time of European contact usually consisted of five elements: shirt, leggings, belt, breechclout (worn between the legs, flapped over a belt at the front and behind) and moccasins. Shirts were made of two halves of skin, such as buck or antelope, with the leg sections of the skin left hanging down at the sides. Arms would be made of quarter skins, left open underneath for freedom of movement. Decoration might include painted war tallies, a list of defeated enemies, war medicine, or a protective symbol such as a Thunderbird. Added decoration included scalp locks and quill- and beadwork. The quilled decoration may represent the four cardinal directions in Sioux thought.

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More information


J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)


Museum number

AOA Ethno 2003.Am.19,46-47


Purchased through the Heritage Lottery Fund, with contributions from JPMorgan Chase, the National Art Collections Fund, the British Museum Friends and The L.J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation.


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