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Old 03-10-2009, 02:22 PM   #1
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Breechcloth/Aprons

From early times dating back to the 17th century, many breechcloths have been made from an excellent grade of wool broadcloth with a “rainbow” or muti-colored selvage.

Originally available in dark blue and sometimes red, the edge or selvage of the cloth was decorated in one-quarter inch strips of contrasting colors, hence the name rainbow selvage.

Today, in addition to the traditional dark blue or red, rainbow selvage broadcloth is available in a much more diverse range of colors including green, white, pink, turquoise and yellow.

Most breechcloths range between thirteen and sixteen inches wide depending on the size of the wearer. The generally accepted guideline is that the outer edges of the breechcloth should fall at least to the center of the dancer’s thigh or perhaps a little wider. The length of the breechcloth was usually a standard fifty-four inches, which was the width of the cloth from selvage to selvage as it came off the bolt. This would allow the rainbow selvage to be used as decoration on the bottom edge of both front and back panels.

Often the breechcloth is worn between the legs, secured with a belt, and worn over shorts or swim trucks.



The material passing between the legs is sometimes omitted, in favor of just the front and back panels or aprons hanging from a belt, and worn over shorts or swim trucks. In either case the bottom edge of the breechcloth would usually come to just above the knee, although some old photos show Comanche, Kiowa and Southern Cheyenne men with breechcloths extending to the ankles in front and back.

Decorating the straight dance breechcloth usually falls into two main categories:

1. Appliqué Beadwork.
Appliqué beadwork on both front and back panels done in the two-needle overlay technique now known as “abstract floral,” “semi-floral,” or “stylized floral” is believed to have originated among the tribes of the Missouri River region including the Ponca, Omaha, Kaw, Oto, Sauk & Fox, Iowa, Osage, Pawnee and Missouri. (Feder, 1965, pp. 69-70)

Omaha apron - front


Omaha apron - back


Omaha apron - front


Omaha apron - back


Omaha apron
Peabody Museum Number: 985-27-10/59485


Osage apron - front


Osage apron - back


By the late 1890s, this style had spread beyond the Missouri River tribes to the Southern Plains tribes, especially with forced relocation of many Missouri River tribes to Oklahoma.

Otoe man - 1896


Dust Maker (aka Pete Mitchell) - Ponca - 1898


Omaha man - 1898


Chas Baddle - Omaha/Otoe - 1898


Bert Fremont - Omaha - 1900


Medicine Horse – Iowa – no date


Kaw men - no date


Pawnee men - no date


Standing Bear - Otoe - 1900


Jessee Kirk, Joseph Springer – Iowa – 1901


George Michelle - Osage - 1905


Omaha dancer - 1922


Ponca Dancer - 1927


Old photos taken in the early 1900s show both Ponca and Osage straight dancers wearing this type of breechcloth with a simple one ribbon binding on the vertical edges, although today the Osage prefer the cut ribbon appliqué decoration almost exclusively. Among the Ponca in recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the traditional style of beaded breechcloth.

2. Cut Ribbon Appliqué.
Cut ribbon appliqué decoration techniques have been used by many middle and southern plains tribes. However, this decoration technique has become very popular among the Osage, which have developed a distinctive style now recognized widely as “Osage Style” ribbonwork. (Feder, 1956, p. 12) This decoration, applied to about two inches of the breechcloth on either vertical edge and extending below the bottom edge of the breechcloth for between one and two inches of loose ribbon, only appears on the breechcloth flaps hanging over the belt in front and back. Within the Osage style of cut ribbon appliqué, there are two main types. The four ribbon center-line style and the multiple ribbon without a center-line style. Of the multiple ribbon, no center style, the most common among the Osage uses thirteen ribbons of contrasting colors in the designs. Important to keep in mind, when cut ribbon appliqué is used on the breechcloth, the same colors and design pattern are used on the broadcloth leggings and dance trailer discussed further in this text. In all three components, the ribbonwork decoration will usually have a simple three-bead edge beadwork in size 11/0 white beads to protect the ribbon edging from fraying.

Osage ribbonwork


Osage ribbonwork


Osage ribbonwork set


Bacon Rind – Osage – 1900


John Wood - Osage - 1910


As stated above, the older, more traditional style of breechcloth among the Comanche, Kiowa and Southern Cheyenne, as seen in old photos from the late 1800s and early 1900s, extend to the ankles in front and back. Frequently these panels were left plain or decorated with brass sequins and or metal fringe.

Haumpy - Kiowa - 1892


Peets-Nah - Comanche - 1910


Prairie Chief – Southern Cheyenne – 1911



Bailey, Garrick, and Daniel Swan.
2004. Art of the Osage. St. Louis Art Museum, University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA.

Barth, Georg J.
1993. Native American Beadwork. R. Schneider Publishers, Stevens Point, WI.

Callahan, Alice A.
1990. The Osage Ceremonial Dance, I’n-Lon-Schka. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.

Cooley, Jim.
1985-a. The Abstract Floral Clout: A Study in Material Culture Diffusion. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, May Issue, Vol. 10, No. 9, LaPalma, CA.
1985-b. Inlonska Centenial Commemoration: One Hundred Years of Dancing at the Pawhuska District. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, June Issue, Vol. 10, No. 10, LaPalma, CA.

Dude, H.D.
1974. That Old Gray Horse Ain’t What She Used To Be. Indian America Magazine, Vol. 8, Number 7, Tulsa, OK.

Duncan, Jim.
1997. Hethushka Zani: An Ethnohistory of the War Dance Complex. MA thesis. Department of Anthropology, Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, OK.

Feder, Norman.
1956-a. Ribbon Appliqué Decoration. The American Indian Hobbyist Newsletter, Volume 3, No. 2.
1956-b. Ribbon Appliqué Decoration. The American Indian Hobbyist Newsletter, Volume 3, No. 3.
1957-a. Costume of the Oklahoma Straight Dancer. The American Indian Hobbyist Newsletter, Vol. 4, No. 1.
1957-b. Costume of the Oklahoma Straight Dancer. The American Indian Hobbyist Newsletter, Vol. 4, No. 2.
1965. American Indian Art. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, NY.
1980. Some Notes on the Osage War Dance. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, November Issue, LaPalma, CA.

Hail, Barbara N.
1980. Hau, Kola!: The Plains Indian Collection of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. Brown University, Bristol, RI.

Howard, Dr. James H.
1965. The Ponca Tribe. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 195, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
1976. Ceremonial Dress of the Delaware Man. Special Issue, The Bulletin of the Archeological Society of New Jersey, No. 33, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ.

Kelly, Helen.
1987. Scarlet Ribbons: American Indian Technique. American Quilters Society, Paducah, KY.

LaFave, Edward J.
1998. Straight Dance Clothing: How to Dress a Straight Dancer. Whispering Wind: American Indian Past & Present Magazine, Vol. 29, No. 4, Folsom, LA.

Lookout, Herman.
1984. I-lon-shka Centennial Booklet, 1884-1984. Program of Events, Pawhuska District Osage Ceremonial Committee, Pawhuska, OK.

Orchard, William C.
1929. Bead and Beadwork of the American Indians. Contributions from the Museum of the American Indian, Vol. 11, Heye Foundation, New York, NY.

Smith, Jerry.
1967. Straight Dance Clout, Leggings and Trailer. The Singing Wire Newsletter, October Issue.
1978-a. Osage Style Ribbonwork Part 1. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, May Issue, Buena Park, CA.
1978-b. Osage Style Ribbonwork Part 2. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, June Issue, Buena Park, CA.
1978-c. Osage Style Ribbonwork Part 3. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, September Issue, Buena Park, CA.
1981. Ribbonwork: An Advanced Pattern. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, March Issue, LaPalma, CA.
1982. Straight Dance Clothes: Getting Them On. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, April Issue, LaPalma, CA.
1983. Ribbonwork: One Pattern, Two Constructions. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, November Issue, LaPalma, CA.

Stewart, Tyronne H.
1968. Dressing a Straight Dancer. The Singing Wire Newsletter, February Issue.
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"Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

--Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

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Old 03-12-2009, 03:24 AM   #2
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I remember when I was very young, my Mom made me a Breechcloth. I wore it for a long time and I still remember how uncomfortable it was as well as difficult to keep even.(front and back) I had three before I started using the Apron. This is a God Send.
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Old 03-28-2009, 12:40 PM   #3
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Other examples:

Two seperate styles of beaded aprons - Kiowa


A full ribbonwork set - Osage
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"Be good, be kind, help each other."
"Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

--Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

Last edited by Historian; 03-28-2009 at 01:03 PM..
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Old 01-25-2010, 04:22 PM   #4
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"Be good, be kind, help each other."
"Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

--Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)
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Old 02-20-2012, 02:40 PM   #5
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"Be good, be kind, help each other."
"Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

--Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)
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