Regalia

Prior to European contact, Chickasaws made their clothing from what they could gather from nature. This included animal skins and fabrics made from rough plant fibers that were woven together.

After Chickasaws began trading with Europeans, newer fabrics were introduced. Over time, this clothing morphed into the traditional ribbon shirts and dresses.

The ribbon dress is fashioned after European and settlers’ prairie dresses, which were popular across the plains in the 19th century. It usually takes an experienced ribbon dress maker anywhere from one to two days to complete a dress. The ribbons on the dresses and shirts are worn for adornment, but they might also show family or clan colors. Regalia is something we wear for special occasions.

Before European Contact

Women's Clothing: Chickasaw women wore dresses made from skins sewed together with fishbone needles and deer sinews. In winter, they wrapped themselves in buffalo-calf skins with wintery shagged wool inward. The women made shoes for their families from skins of deer, bear and elk, carefully tanned and smoked to prevent hardening. The Southeastern style moccasin was very distinctive in that it was constructed with the seam at the top of the footwear. In earlier times, it was adorned with shells. Later, intricate beadwork was practiced in the decoration of moccasins.

The woman in the lower Mississippi made ear ornaments out of the central parts of conch shells, which were shaped somewhat like railroad spikes, the heads serving to keep them from falling through.

Chickasaw women gave much attention to their appearance, never forgetting to anoint and tie up their hair, except in time of mourning, and to bathe daily, except during periods of menstrual seclusion.

Men's Clothing: The basic male garment was the breechcloth. The heat of summer, their only clothing was a shirt of dressed deerskin. Long, shaggy garments of panther, deer, bear, beaver and otter skins, the fleshy side out, warmed them in winter. Hunters wore deerskin boots reaching to the thigh to protect against brambles and thorny thickets.

There was a summer visiting dress that the Chickasaw people made of deer skins, which, because of its great length, might be considered a nightgown rather that a shirt. During cold weather, and when it was necessary to protect the lower limbs from contact with underbrush, skin garments which are usually called "leggings" were added. The lower borders of these were tucked under the upper edges of the moccasins, and the upper ends were usually carried high enough so that they could be fastened to the belt by means of straps. They were held in under the knee by means of ornamented bands called "garters."

Moccasins were worn throughout the Southeast by the Indians when traveling, but at home, they went barefoot much of the time. Adair distinguishes between moccasins for common wear, made of bear or elk-skin, and those of deerskin for dress occasions. The short skirt usually is made of animal skins and also of the feathers of turkeys and other birds. A cloak spun from the inner bark of the mulberry or from certain grasses was worn. The mantle was usually fastened over the shoulder so as to expose the right breast.

Older men and young boys wore their hair long. The warrior hairstyle was to shave the sides of the head, leaving a roach or crest that the wearer soaked with bear grease. The men plucked all hair from their faces and bodies with tweezers, made in early times of clam shells and later, of wire. Chickasaw warriors painted their faces for ceremonies and war, the color and design indicating their clan association. They wore ear and nose ornaments and decorated their heads and shoulders with eagle feathers and a mantle of white swan feathers, the ultimate badge sought by every warrior. Most of the jewelry found at burial sites consisted of shell gorgets, ear spools, bracelets and anklets.

Facial painting indicated the group of the wearer, but was only used on occasion of war. The Imosakica group of Chickasaws painted across and above the cheek bones, while the Intcukwalipa decorated only below the cheek bones. Some Chickasaw men practiced the art of tattooing as well.

After European Contact

Women's Clothing: After traders brought cloth to the Chickasaw towns, Native women made a loose petticoat, fastened with leather belt and brass buckle that reached only to their hams or thighs in order to show their exquisitely fine-proportioned limbs.

Like the men, women in more affluent families also adopted the style of clothing for the period. Large bustled dresses with parasols and soft satin slippers adorned the bodies of many mixed blood plantation ladies. The fashion conscious were adorned with beautiful jeweled necklaces, bracelets and rings in silver and gold. Grandly ornamented hats were also worn.

At the time of Removal, most Chickasaw women were wearing what their white counterparts were wearing at the time. The average Chickasaw homemaker wore a "pioneer dress" made from cotton. An apron was worn for practical cooking purposes.

Often, a woman would choose the color that represented her family for a dress that would be worn at ceremonial or special occasions. This dress would have ribbons sewn onto the yoke and on the wristbands. Ruffles were sewn onto the dress at the yoke and at the bottom hem. Choctaw dresses usually featured two ruffles at the bottom, while Chickasaw dresses often had just one ruffle featured. Colorful rick-rack was sewn on Chickasaw dresses whenever it could be found.

For ornamentation, Chickasaw women would decorate their dresses with silver brooches that featured long ribbons attached. These brooches would be fastened to the back of the dress, one on the left and the other on the right. These were attached approximately where the middle of the shoulder blades are found. Other silver brooches were added to the front of the dress along the yoke ruffle.

A silver comb was often worn by Chickasaw women. This piece of adornment was decidedly Spanish in origin. Long ribbons were often attached to the combs which hung to the ankles of the wearer as well.

Finger woven belts were also part of the Chickasaw woman's ceremonial attire. These colorful adornments were woven entirely by hand. In earlier times, the belts were made from hemp. Today, the hemp has been replaced with common knitting yarn. Finger woven belts are always worn with the tassels toward the fire while dancing. Only a few Chickasaw people still practice the ancient craft of finger weaving today.

The intricate beaded collars worn at the yoke of the dress were an adaptation of the style of necklace that was being worn by some European women at the time of contact. The Chickasaws took this style and incorporated it into their culture by constructing the piece with the newly acquired glass beads. This type of beadwork was practiced by many of the Southeastern tribal cultures.

Another important ceremonial piece of attire for Chickasaw women was the shell shaker shackles. These musical leg ornaments were made out of terrapin turtle shells. (Today, many dancers make the shackles from small Pet milk cans.) A handful of small stones or pebbles was added to each shell or can. These stones were taken out of a running stream or river to ensure the wearer of keeping the rhythm of the song. Shoes worn were moccasins or black dress shoes. An old Southeastern story says that the turtle gave his shell to woman so that she would be able to dance.

Another story tells women that they should always try to incorporate more female turtle shells into their shackles than male. The reason for this was said to be that females do all the work, and the males were just along for the ride. Women never painted or adorned the shell shackles, which were worn on both lower legs. Dresses were short enough to allow for the shackles voice to be heard in their song.

Chickasaw men and women at the time of Removal had adopted many of the social habits of European society. They wore their hair in similar fashion and dressed according to the fashion of the time period. However, certain aspects of their ancient culture continued to be represented in ceremonial attire.

Men's Clothing: After coming in contact with the French, Spanish and English, trade goods exchanged were much different from what Chickasaws had known for centuries. Among the new items being offered for trade were cloth, silver, glass beads, head wear, manufactured boots and many other metallic ornaments and clothing staples. Chickasaw men began to slowly incorporate certain aspects of these "new and improved" clothing items into their apparel. Soon, many Chickasaw men were wearing trader's coats and pants, footwear, fur caps and cloth shirts.

The Chickasaw turban was taken from French culture. In later years the turban was replaced by the common straw hat. The accessories on the hat included a decorative band, deer-hair roach with eagle, hawk or turkey feather attached, white plume and a hat pin. A person's rank ceremonially was indicated by the type of feather worn and the addition of a bandolier for certain clan leaders. In more modern times, the straw hat has been replaced by the black felt cowboy hat by many Chickasaw men. The reason for this is uncertain.

Silver gorgets and armbands were taken from the Spanish and English. Armbands were usually worn on the upper arm between the shoulder and elbow. The number of bars represented on the gorget indicated the power and position of the wearer. Tribal leaders and officials often wore gorgets with three or more bars. Ribbons adorned the shirts of men. This is thought to have derived from the importance ribbons played in the ancient Chickasaw pashofa ceremony.

A finger woven belt was part of the standard attire of men who participated in ceremonial activities and dances. In earlier times, this belt represented a person with power and position. Its colors represented the colors of the clan or family of the wearer.

As the mixed blood faction of the tribe became more prominent politically and economically, these men began to emulate much of what their social counterparts from white society were wearing. The more affluent men, according to European standards, were dressed in the high fashion of the period.

The Chickasaw Nation Dance Troupe has spent many hours researching and documenting ancient Chickasaw beliefs and customs. They have painstakingly recreated regalia which reflects an accurate account of how Chickasaws dressed for ceremonial purposes at the time of Chickasaw Removal. For more information about the Chickasaw Nation Dance Troupe, contact the Chickasaw Nation Cultural Resources Department at (580) 332-8685.

References:

Adair, James. The History of the American Indians. Ed. with an introduction by Samuel C. Williams. Johnson City, Tennessee, 1930.

Swanton, John R. Social and Religious Beliefs and Usages of the Chickasaw Indians. Bureau of American Ethnology Forty fourth Annual Report. Washington, 1928.

Gibson, Arrell M. The Chickasaws. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 1987. Eddie Postoak, Director of Cultural Resources and Dance Troupe member

Last Updated: 12/12/2016