Navajo Indians, also known as Diné or “the people,” are most commonly known for their textile weaving. A vertical frame loom was used to create blankets and clothing. Garments were dyed with natural vegetable dyes. Initially, the Navajo people used only deerskin for shirts and skirts, but as time progressed, cotton, velvet and wool were used to create clothing and yarn. The Navajo Nation in the United States is the largest Native American reservation in the country. It extends into Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, covering more than 27,000 square miles. Some still live as they did over 1,000 years ago.
The Navajo people wore a lot of turquoise jewelry and some pieces contained symbolic significance. These pieces were often traded. Men would wear cotton or deerskin pants that dropped just below the knee. A vertical slit from the bottom outer sides of the pants to just above the knee was common. Navajo men left their pants slightly open on the outer sides.
Deerskin leggings were another common piece of apparel among the Navajo. The leggings would come up from the moccasins to the knee. Leggings were held in place by winding a piece of material (deerskin, velvet, cotton, leather, wool) around the leg and tucking in the end. Moccasins were also made from deerskin. The soles of the moccasins were made with rawhide. Moccasins would reach a little above the ankle. The hip leggings would extend from the moccasin up to the knee.
Shirts were often made with velvet or crushed velvet. Velvet was a very common material used for shirts. Men often wore velvet shirts without collars that were low cut and cut low underneath the arms. Women would wear shirts made of velvet, complete with coin buttons.
Belts made of leather were called “concho belts”. Concho belts were worn both by men and women. Women also wore “sash belts” made of cotton or deerskin underneath the concho belts.
Scarves were worn as headdresses for men. Men wrapped these scarves around the head, covering one ear. Scarves were typically made from cotton, wool, velvet, or deerskin.
Blankets were woven on a loom to create Navajo dresses. Navajo women wore “squaw dresses” that were two deerskin or cotton blankets, approximately 50 inches by 20 inches, laced together at the sides, leaving space for the arms, and a hole for the head. Blankets were dyed plain, dark colors using natural vegetable dyes.
Turquoise jewelry completed the Navajo look. The Navajo people wore a lot of turquoise jewelry. Designs would be placed in rings, bracelets, and belts. Some pieces of Navajo jewelry contained symbolic significance.