Chinook clothing - What did Chinook people wear?
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Chinook Clothing

September 2016 - Around 1500 AD, Chinook people, both men and women, wore leather leggings and long leather shirts. Women's shirts were longer than men's, and their sleeves were wider. In warm weather, people often wore less clothing, and in winter they often wrapped furs around them to keep warm.

Like people in Africa, Chinook people also made short skirts and hats out of pounded bark from cedar trees (and also sleeping mats).

You could tell rich people's clothing apart because rich people had time to decorate their clothes with lots of beads, feathers, and shells.

Chinook head-shaping
Chinook head-shaping board (1860)

Chinook people also flattened their heads like the Huns to make themselves look more beautiful or handsome. Both men and women had flattened heads. They did this by tying boards to press down on babies' heads while their skulls were still soft, and this gradually changed the shape of their heads, the way braces gradually change the shape of your teeth. The only people who didn't have their heads flattened were slaves taken from other tribes, so people were happy to have flat heads to show that they were born free. Richer women also got tattoos on their arms and legs, as this woman has.

Chinook woman
A Chinook woman

When European sailors first started to come to Chinook land, people got blue and white Venetian and Indian trade beads from them. Both men and women wore these blue and white trade beads as bracelets around their wrists and ankles, which sometimes were so tight that they cut off circulation and made their legs and hands swell up.

But with the coming of European settlers in the late 1800s, people gradually gave up their leather clothes to wear less expensive wool and cotton clothes that they bought from the settlers. And as there got to be fewer and fewer Chinook people, and most Chinook women had to marry Europeans or people from other tribes, flattening heads gradually went out of fashion too.

Learn by doing: discussing body modification
More about the Chinook

Bibliography and further reading about Chinook clothing:

Sioux people
Inuit people
Blackfoot people
Ute people
Pueblo people
Iroquois people
American History
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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