Photo courtesy of the KQ Designs Custom Beadwork
The regalia for Women’s Northern Traditional, the oldest style of women’s dance, is updated with modern patterns and bead colors.

4 Ways Pow Wow Regalia Has Changed Throughout the Years

Tish Leizens

If you think you’ve seen everything there is to see in pow wow regalia, think again. It seems like the outfits are getting a makeover all the time, with artistry and an explosion of colors, contemporary designs and patterns.

“Pow wow clothes are forever evolving. They are evolving at a faster pace now because of the Internet and social media. These allow dancers across the country to see the changes in dance clothes,” said Michael Knapp, dancer, designer and owner of KQ Designs Custom Beadwork, a studio based in Lexington, Kentucky.

It’s the large competition prize money that has the biggest effect on regalia said Jack Heriard, editor and publisher of Whispering Wind and who also published “The Evolution of Powwow Dance Clothes” for the Louisiana Indian Heritage Association.

“It is important to understand that while the clothing worn by today’s pow wow dancers has historical significance, they are ever changing and evolving. What was once considered fashionable in as little as ten years past, may be considered out of style today,” he wrote in a booklet.

ICTMN has called on dancers, regalia makers, pow wow organizers and educators to come up with a short list of what was then and now.

Here are four ways regalia has changed throughout the years and how:

1. Economic sense

Factor in the economy, said Heriard. The materials used in regalia change now and then depending on the business cycle.

“The elimination of beaded women’s leggings in the 1980’s was replaced by leggings decorated with sequins—good example of an economic reality.Ribbon-work applique in place of beadwork on yokes and shawls is another example. As economic times improve beadwork becomes more elaborate and plentiful,” he said.

In men’s fancy, a pow wow style that became popular in the 1940s and 1950s, a swing in the economy made an impact on the clothing. “The economy of the 1980s saw the elimination of the beaded harness and the emergence of the applique yoke with fringe and the use of more ribbons on shirts and bustles,” said Heriard.

“As the economy improved into the 1990s and to the present, beadwork in all its splendor and beauty is back as well as the making of more elaborate bustles. The arm bustles are also back, smaller but reminiscent of the 1940s,” he added.


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