The Choctaw clothes in early days in Mississippi were whatever was available within their region. The early clothes consisted of a blouse and short skirt made of animal hide for the woman. Deer brains were used in tanning the hides. The men wore breechcloths and moccasins. When traveling, they wore pants and a shirt. In the winter, they wore outer garments of animal hide and furs with the lower ends of leggings tucked into the moccasin. The Choctaw men wore moccasins when traveling, but often went barefoot at home.
Later, the women invariably wore a blouse and skirt made of cotton material. In the winter the body was protected by a shawl. Women wore moccasins similar to those worn by men, but usually went barefoot at home. For ornaments, they wore wooden beads. Both men and women wore their hair long - sometimes plaited, sometimes flowing loosely.
The clothes worn after the turn of the 19th century was similar to those worn by the white settlers. The dress style changed among the women of the white settlers, but the Choctaw women continued to wear the loosely fitted dress with the hemline just above the ankle. Women wore an apron and kerchief and went barefoot at home. During the early 1900’s, the women began to adopt the dress style of that era and ready-made dresses were available for purchase. Today the Choctaw women keep abreast of current fashion and no longer are they set apart by the clothes they wear.
The clothes for ceremonial activities were colorful and carefully sewn by hand. The origin and date of the adoption of this distinctive dress is not certain, but it is similar to the traditional peasant dress in Brittany’s Province of France during the early 1800’s. The handmade dress has a full sleeve and flowing skirt with ruffles requiring up to six yards of colorful cotton material. The Choctaw dress of today is usually of solid color of green, red, blue, purple, or other bright color with contrasting color trim. The decorative trim symbolizes the mountains and valleys with a path or trail beside them.
The circle and cross symbolizes the sun and the stars. The diamond shaped trim is said to symbolize respect for nature, such as respect for the diamond-backed rattlesnake. For instance, if you go into the woods and are bitten by a snake, you have invaded his territory; therefore, you should respect his home and be watchful.
A decorative white apron with contrasting trim and ruffles is an integral part of the Choctaw woman’s dress. It is decorative as well as functional. The marital status of the woman determines the opening of the dress. The unmarried woman’s dress is opened in the back, while the married woman’s dress is opened at the front for accessibility to nourishment for an infant.
Ornaments worn with the dress for special occasions include a beaded decorative comb on the crown of the head. Other beaded decorations include earrings, medallion, collar necklace in a diamond lace design, and shoulder necklace. Multi-color ribbons are normally worn at the back as decorations while performing the Choctaw social dance. A white handkerchief is worn at the neckline and a pair of moccasins completes the ensemble.
Traditional Choctaws dresses are usually worn only for special occasions today. They are usually a solid color with contrasting trim or a print with a contrasting solid trim.
Directions for a Choctaw Dress
Fabric: Cotton, Cotton/Polyester blend; Notions: 22” zipper, threads yardage: Average adult, 5 yards; larger size, 6 yards; apron and decorative trim 1 and 3/4 yards, all of 44” materials. Seam allowance 1/4” to 3/8”.
Use scissors for yoke, midriff and sleeve to make sure the dress fits.
- Cut yoke, front and back - cut two of each.
- Cut lower bodice or midriff, front and back. Cut two, same size.
- Sleeve - length to wrist.
Tear: two cuffs, large enough to slip over hand; two waistbands, to go around your waist loosely plus 2 inches; Skirt: two panels with length desired (from mid-calf to floor); Strips for ruffles for hem, skirt and yoke: Tear strips allowing for slight fullness, approximately 1 1/2 times the width of hem; Strips for two panels of 44” material: Hem ruffles 4” x 132”; skirt ruffles 3 3/4” x 132”; yoke ruffles 3 1/2 ” x 132”. Cut bias strip 2” wide for neck, length depends on size of neckline; Strips for decorative trimmings: 3/4” for triangle trim and 1/2 ” wide for narrow strips above trim. Cut strips with scissors. The strips are 132” long.
Yoke is lined. Waistband is lined also. Trimmings should be of contrasting material. Trimmings on yoke, two rows; cuffs, one row; hem ruffles, one row; skirt, two rows.
Wash dress by hand or on gentle cycle in washer. Dry on low heat or in shaded area so it won’t fade. Do not store dress and moccasins together.
- Sew together shoulder, front and back of yoke. Same with lining.
- Basting stitch on top and bottom of midriff for both back and front. Gather and fit onto yoke of back and front, sew through all materials. Optional, you may slip-stitch the lining. Hand sew sleeve yoke and yoke lining.
- It is now ready for decorative trim. When the trim is completed, sew yoke ruffles on. Sew strip of trimming on ruffles at gathering line. Complete before going to next step.
- Fit bias strip material on neckline, sew.
- Gather sleeve to fit cuff, stitch. Sew trim on cuff, complete.
- Sew sleeve onto bodice (yoke and midriff), make gathering at top of sleeve, to fit yoke and midriff. Fold cuff and slip stitch.
- Fit gathered midriff onto waistband and lining, baste, adjust if needed, sew. Set aside.
- Sew two panels for skirt together. Prepare opening in front or back sufficient to sew zipper in when dress is completed. Baste stitch top of skirt.
- Sew together 3 strips for bottom ruffles. Make narrow hem. Sew trim near the hem line. Put a basting stitch on top of ruffles but don’t gather it until the trimming is completed. When completed, gather ruffles and sew onto bottom of skirt. Press.
- Sew trimming just above stitching line of skirt through all materials.
- Sew 3 strips of ruffles for skirt. Make narrow hem. Baste stitch on top. No trimmings. Gather, and sew on skirt above trimmings. Sew strip of trimmings on gathering line. Complete trimmings.
- When the skin is completed with ruffles and trimmings, gather top of skirt and fit onto waistband, sew. Slip stitch lining.
- At this point, the dress should be complete except for the zipper. Sew in zipper.
- Use the same instructions for apron as dress.