Heritage Site / Ethnography Site / Nakawé / The People

Article: Men's Dress

The style of dress that the Saulteaux men used was a unique mix of both their newfound prairie identity and their old woodland dress. This unique mix of influence made the Saulteaux man one of the most elegantly dressed on the plains.

Of the most important items of clothing to the Saulteaux man was the breechcloth or ázian. The ázian was basically two aprons (one hanging in front and one behind) suspended from a narrow belt. The aprons were usually made of Buckskin. In the winter the two pieces of the ázian were usually connected with another piece of buckskin in between the legs. There were variations of such types of clothing such as long ázians that usually touched the ground. Only prominent warriors (Okítsitá?) and Chiefs could wear the long variation of such items of clothing.

In the early days Saulteaux men wore both long and short leggings. The leggings were made of buckskins. Each legging required one buckskin, folded double to be appropriate for the men to wear. The short legging reached from the ankle to the knee and was fastened there with either beadwork kneebands or yarn. The long leggings reached from the ankle all the way to the hip and were fastened with buckskin thongs that attached to the belt. Buckskin was also used to sew the seam of the legging. The seam was usually fashioned so that the opening of the legging was much larger than the bottom. This style of seam attachment usually left a flap of buckskin on the side of the legging and was either cut into a fringe or decorated with beads. In later days, leggings were usually made of blanket material.

For the men, shirts were of the "poncho" fashion. This was the type usually associated with the plains tribes. Such tops were worn only during ceremonies and cold weather as they were made of buckskin and did not suit to be used during the warmer months. Three buckskins were required to make such a shirt: one each for the front and back and one more to fashion the sleeves. The Saulteaux style of shirt differed slightly from the main style of plains tribes' dress. This is so due to the presence of a beaded yolk around the neck that was rectangular in shape. Underneath the yolk there was a large circular rosette which was also located in the back of the shirt. Along the sleeves were stripes that repeated the rosette design on the main part of the shirt. Attached on the back of these arm stripes were fringes made of ermine skins or scalps. Another form of top worn by Saulteaux men was the capote or parka. These were made of moose or elk hide. This type of top was fashioned with a pointed hood and attached with ornamental feathers, tassels and bells in the back. The capote was folded on the bottom to make a fastener for a belt or sash. Such a design on the capote was usually utilised as a pocket of sorts in which smaller items could be stored.

One of the most well known or prominent items of clothing used by the Saulteaux was the Buffalo robe, which is associated with almost all plains culture tribes. The hide was worn with a band of bead or quillwork running the length of the hide in the back. This length of decoration was used originally to disguise the seam that was used to fasten the robe together. This seam was known as the "hump upward" flaying technique. Even in later times when such a technique was no longer used, the decoration remained. Warriors and hunters would some times paint their exploits on the inside of their robes to help them to prove shared stories of their successes. One passage describes the way in which the Saulteaux wore the robes:

"In wearing the robe the head end was grasped with the right hand and brought around to the left side. The tail part was thrown over the left shoulder, covering up the left arm. The right arm and shoulder were thus left bare and free for action, while the left hand grasped the robe and held it in position." (P.48, Howard)

The headgear of the Saulteaux people was very diverse not only in their design but also in their meaning and importance.

Horned bonnets: worn by the Okítsitá and other distinguished warriors. This was usually worn during ceremonies to distinguish the wearer from his colleagues and signify his importance in the camp. The horned bonnet was usually adorned with a single row of feathers on the tail part running down the back of the wearer. Such items were also usually adorned with paintings of the owners' exploits in the hunt and during war on the tailpiece.

Buffalo Headdress: these were made of a bison skull and horns. They were usually worn on special occasions (ceremonies, diplomatic events, etc). Members of the Buffalo dance society also wore them.

Beaded headband: both men and women wore these when they participated in the sundance. The only difference would be the presence of an eagle feather at the crown of the males' headband.

Roach head dress: worn by young grass dancers. This headgear was adorned with both porcupine and deer hair.

Grass headdress: these headpieces were worn by scouts to disguise themselves among the tall prairie grass. Members of the Okítsitá also wore them during special occasions to mark their success as scouts. Variations of this are long braids of bast fastened to a fillet of brasswood bast with eagle feathers fastened upright to them.

It should be known that moccasins were a unisex form of dress among the Saulteaux. The moccasins that were worn by the Saulteaux reflected their woodland roots and ancestry. The moccasin was called Mintsíkawán-mákesín. It was soft soled and made of two pieces. The sole piece was puckered up around the large vamp at the instep. The vamp was usually adorned with beaded floral designs (it is this characteristic of the moccasin that gives it its roots to a woodland origin) on black velveteen.

A second style of moccasin worn by the Saulteaux is very old and is only known through museums and prints. It is a one-piece style with a seam puckered along the top of the moccasin