Potawatomi Clothing


The Potawatomi dressed simply.  The men wore red or blue clothing in the summer months.  In the winter, they would put on decorated buffalo robes.  They also wore leggings made of skin or cloth during winter months or special dances.  When playing games such as lacrosse, the men would wear only breechcloths and deerskin moccasins.  When the Europeans arrived they were wearing cloth shirts.  The Potawatomi liked wearing these cloth shirts instead of the leather ones made from the hides of animals.

The women wore dresses that came down to about knee length.  They wore a sort of petticoat underneath the dresses which covered them from the waist down to the knee.  Some of the Potawatomi women wore little bonnets, while others covered their heads when traveling with a cowl that was attached to the dress or robe.

buffalo skin

The Potawatomi made many clothing items from the hides of animals; they used special tools to tan the hides for use in garments.   The tanning process was the work of the women in the tribe.

The tanners began by placing the fresh skin of an animal over a log that was tilted up at one end.  Using a scraper made from the sharpened shin bone of a deer, they removed any flesh that still clung to the underside of the skin.  Then they washed the hide and left it to soak for several days.  This loosened the hair.  The hide was then put back on the log and the remaining hair was scraped off.

The brains of large animals were saved to be used in the next step of the tanning process.  The tanners cooked the brains with fat and then rubbed the mixture into the hide.  They left the hides like this overnight, so the mixture could soak into the skin.  The next day, they wrung out of the hide and stretch it on a frame built between two close-standing trees.  Then they rubbed the whole surface with a stone or bone-headed tool.  This left the hide dry and soft.

a tanner tanning a hide

The final step in the tanning process was smoking the hide.  The tanners sewed the hide so that it formed a cone-shaped tipi and placed it over a smoky "smudge fire."  The smoke turned the skin a yellow-brown to dark brown color, depending on how long the smoking process lasted.

The tanned hides were then cut and finished with as little sewing as possible.  Women wore simple skirts and sleeveless dresses that draped over their shoulders, held in place with a belt.  If they needed to sew pieces together, they first had to punch holes through the skin with a bone awl (needle).  They used thread made from a plant fiber to hold the skins together.  The leggings for the men had strips of hide for use as ties in several places down each leg, so they didn't require any sewing.

a finished robe

Both the men and women of the tribe greased their hair and painted their skin.  The women usually painted their faces with vermilion (clay), a bright shade of red.  The men painted themselves all over for special events, such as lacrosse games.  Men also tattooed their bodies with all sorts of designs.



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