The early European settlers of the North American continent may have been frightened by the tribal peoples they encountered on their explorations and settling of this “new land.” Surely the difficulty in communicating they experienced due to language barriers allowed for no end to misunderstandings and confusion.
One source of confusion might have been the trivializing of the clothing worn by the native peoples, calling it Native American costumes, as opposed to traditional clothing worn for the same reasons the Europeans wore the clothing they wore. No doubt, once the traditional Native American way of life became more common knowledge among the settlers, the clothing styles made more sense.
Unfortunately, it seems the understanding of the way of life came too late. The settlers are known for “civilizing” the natives by replacing their “Native American costumes” with the clothing worn by the fashion-conscious puritan newcomers from Europe.
The settlers had no concept of daily life for the Native Americans and had no idea how their clothing styles had evolved over hundreds of years of a well-established and thriving lifestyle. The Native American costumes weren’t costumes at all but were, instead, clothing wisely adapted, expertly crafted, and reverently worn.
Before the traditional Native American costumes faded into history, for the most part, there was a period of time when tribal peoples seemed to revel in wearing clothing they got from the European settlers. New adornments like ostrich feathers, glass beads, and lace made their way into traditional tribal clothing and wardrobes were supplemented with garments from the settlers.
In only a few short generations, however, the traditional dress of the North American natives gave way to what became mainstream fashion. Today, it is very uncommon to see anyone wearing the clothing of the tribal peoples on an everyday basis.
Instead, today, Native American costumes are reserved for secluded tribal ceremonies and rituals and as costumes in the truest sense of the word to appease the tourist trade.