Wool dress

Crow, around AD 1900
From the American Plains, North America

Decorated with elk teeth and bone replacements

Crow women decorated wool dresses with elk teeth and carved bone replacements. The number of teeth no doubt indicates their husband's prowess in hunting, as each elk has only two canine teeth. The teeth also act as charms for longevity. Elk teeth were also used in gaming, as dice by women, and in the hand game, a game of concealment in which players guessed the whereabouts of the teeth. An elk-tooth dress would be presented by a man's parents to their daughter-in-law on marriage. Such dresses would be worn on special occasions, for instance when playing a polo-like game on horseback.

Plains dresses were originally made of animal skin. They were constructed of two rectangles side-sewn with straps, or alternatively, a single piece of skin, with a side fold. In the nineteenth century fuller dresses, preferable for use when riding, were constructed of two skins edge-to-edge, the deer tail uppermost. A third skin provided a cape-like shoulder-piece with long sleeves falling loosely over the arms.

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More information

Bibliography

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

Dimensions

Length: 113.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 1930.20

ENA9049

Christy Collection

Location

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