What are the Characteristics of Apache Clothing?

Heather Phillips

The Apache, a group of people indigenous to the North American Southwest and made up of at least six Indian tribes, wore a variety of traditional clothing prior to their contact with European cultures in the 1800s. Apache clothing for men typically included a loincloth or flap, also known as a breechcloth or breechclout. In warmer weather, this might be all that they would wear, with perhaps a pair of lightweight moccasins or sandals. When it was colder, the men would wear a long deerskin shirt, leggings and headpieces fashioned from leather. The Apache clothing for the women of the tribe included buckskin dresses and loose-fitting fringed shirts and skirts of varying lengths. Both men and women would normally wear high boot-like moccasins in colder weather or lighter weight sandals or moccasins in warmer weather.

Apache Indians sometimes used porcupine quills to decorate their clothing.
Apache Indians sometimes used porcupine quills to decorate their clothing.

Apache clothing was primarily made of deerskin. These Native Americans used deerskin because it was readily available. It was also lightly colored, helping to reflect the hot Southwest sun. The shirts and dresses were also cut full and blouse-like which helped to keep the wearer cool. The sleeves of shirts and blouses typically were above the elbow to allow freedom of movement. The traditional Apache clothing was both functional and decorative. The Apache Indians would decorate their clothing with leather fringe, beads, porcupine quills, bird feathers, and dye made from berries. The way the tribe decorated their clothing set them apart from other American Indians.

The Apache Indians are known for handmade arts and crafts, such as beaded jewelry.
The Apache Indians are known for handmade arts and crafts, such as beaded jewelry.

Both Apache men and women commonly wore their hair long and, for the most part, loose. The men would sometimes use a leather or cloth headband around the circumference of their head. In colder weather, men typically used a deerskin cap, often highly ornamented. The women sometimes wore their hair in a loosely gathered bun. Women often would oil their hair to keep it shiny as well.

Women also wore jewelry such as earrings and necklaces. They wore belts made of woven leather and metal. Men wore jewelry also, often crafted from shells. Both men and women painted their faces for special tribal events and ceremonies. Apaches also made highly decorated leather pouches and quivers as functional accessories.

As the Apache tribes made contact with other indigenous people and with emigrating Europeans, their mode of dressing changed. This started to occur in the 1800s. After coming into contact with Mexicans, many Apache used cloth to make cotton tunics, vests, and pants for the men, while some of the women wore calico dresses and skirts.

Apache Indians often decorated their clothing with feathers.
Apache Indians often decorated their clothing with feathers.

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Discussion Comments


This is a good article, but it is hard to call these the definitive Apache clothing styles because there are so many tribes that fall under the umbrella term "Apache".

There are at least seven languages spoken by different people who are called Apache. They are related, but not as much as you might expect.

Mostly they did all wear deerskin because it was the easiest material to make, and they could be distinguished by their beautiful beadwork.

But other ornaments would depend on the tribe and what was available in the area.


I focused on Native American anthropology in college, and let me tell you, it is a fascinating subject. Take even one aspect, like clothesmaking.

Curing the buckskin cloth was a really intensive process. You couldn't just skin the deer and expect the cloth to last.

Hunting the animals would have been difficult enough, but after that the women had to scrape and process the hides, using animal brains to preserve them.

Imagine having to do that for every piece of clothing you wear or that your children and husband wears.

Luckily once the cloth was made, it was very hard wearing, so it didn't have to be made too often, but still, I have a lot of admiration for people who used to do this.

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