A Brief History
Ribbon Shirts

By Stephanie M. Schwartz, Freelance Writer
Member, Native American Journalists Association (NAJA)
© Firestone, Colorado  August 20, 2008

Originally, each Native American Tribe had its own unique culture, language, and clothing styles.  However, as the Eastern American Indian Nations were forced to assimilate, the traditional Ribbon Shirt evolved.

Based upon the loose, plain white cotton shirt of the early traders and settlers, the tribes east of the Mississippi would add their own decorations of shells, quills, beadwork, or embroidery.  Eventually, calico or patterned cotton material was used as it became available from the traders.

By the mid-1800’s, the popularity of these shirts began to spread west of the Mississippi to the Plains Nations and north to the Woodlands and Midwestern Native American Nations. 

By 1900, ribbons became more readily available from the traders and this soon became the preferred decoration with all the Nations.  For many people, the ribbons symbolized fringe and, for many Native Americans, fringe represents prayers for the children and the elders.

There are three basic styles distinguished by having either no collar (sometimes referred to as the Original style), or a small stand-up collar (called the Cherokee style), or those with a regular collar which are known as the Western Plains style.

Today, the ribbon shirt continues to be a favorite among most of the American Indian Nations.  It is worn in ceremonies, events and celebrations, as part of the regalia for Pow Wow dancing and as formal or business wear.
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