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Lakota women's traditional dress of the last half of the twentieth century

Marilyn Frances Rasmussen, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The material culture of a society forms a vital link between past and present generations. One indigenous group of the Great Plains, the Lakota, were prolific producers of beaded buckskin and trade cloth dresses at the turn of the century. This study explored the importance of Lakota women's traditional dress as a continuous and contemporary symbol of Lakota ethnicity and identity.^ Examples of Lakota women's traditional dresses were examined within the prevalent context, the modern powwow. Applying naturalistic inquiry methodology, the researcher gathered information about contemporary producers of traditional dress and the women who own and wear them. Photography, observation and interviews were employed to document, compare and analyze traditional dresses. Forty-two individuals were interviewed regarding fifty-six traditional dresses in their possession. The descriptive data were analyzed for content categories.^ A comparison of dresses in the sample with dress from the Early Reservation period (1880-1920) revealed similarities in geometric and pictorial designs and color harmonies; however, decorative detail, field color, material selection and dress contour exhibited some differences from the apparent standard. Variations were attributed to originality, the performance environment and availability of resources, both material and financial. Respondents affirmed that traditionalism was maintained by the artifact even when adaptations and substitute materials were present, suggesting an evolving perspective of traditionalism stemming from practicality, innovation and context.^ Women's traditional dress in contemporary Lakota society served as a symbol of ethnicity and as entrance into the domain of performance, acceptance and recognition both in tribal communities and society as a whole. Native aesthetics were maintained but were influenced by the principal point of usage, that is, the powwow. Traditional dress operated as an idealization of native life, as a means of enculturating the young to Lakota customs and values, and as a mainstay of identity, both individually and collectively. ^

Subject Area

Anthropology, Cultural|Design and Decorative Arts|Women's Studies

Recommended Citation

Rasmussen, Marilyn Frances, "Lakota women's traditional dress of the last half of the twentieth century" (1997). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9736947.