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10 Fashion Faux Pas to Avoid at a Pow Wow

Alysa Landry

At a pow wow, wardrobe choices often depend on your role at the event, but whether you’re dancing, singing or just watching, there are fashion faux pas to avoid.

Some universal standards apply at all pow wows, regardless of location, weather or purpose. Here are some tips to keep you from committing embarrassing – or offensive – fashion blunders:

Ripped, ragged or sagging pants

Pow wows represent a mixture of the social and the spiritual, said Reno Charette, a women’s traditional dancer and director of American Indian outreach at Montana State University Billings. If you’re not dancing, casual attire is appropriate, but it should fit properly and be in good repair. “Our young men go around with their pants hanging low,” said Charette, who is Crow and Turtle Mountain Chippewa. “That’s especially bad when they’re in the drum group and they lean forward.”

Shorts or miniskirts

Showing too much leg is inappropriate for anyone in the arena, including spectators, Charette said. She recommends a style that is “casual without being revealing.” Even in 100-degree weather, Daisy Duke-style shorts or miniskirts should be avoided.

For some male dancers, bare legs are part of the regalia, but singers and spectators should cover up, Charette said. “Some of our male dancers may not have their legs fully covered, but there is a standard of modesty that they abide by.”

Swimsuits, halter tops or bikini tops

Regardless of where they are in the arena, women should avoid tight clothing or anything that shows cleavage, Charette said. That includes halter tops, bikini tops and spaghetti straps. It also includes any style worn without appropriate underwear. “We know it’s hot, but please cover up,” she said. “Going braless at a pow wow is inappropriate. Bosoms need to be contained.”


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Shunkmanitu's picture
Submitted by Shunkmanitu on
While working at a convenience store a customer ask if I ever dressed like a "Native American". I explained that not all NDNs dressed alike but that that I have worn Sleeveless Tees & Jeans all my life. PowWows? Usually Jeans & a Ribbon Shirt often my VietNam Vet Colors.

Shunkmanitu's picture
Submitted by Shunkmanitu on
I was upset with a PowWow that forced an NDN vendor to quit selling the "Americas First Welfare Line' (NDNs feeding Pilgrims) & "Original Homeland Security" clothing because a tourist complained.

cjpetoskey's picture
Submitted by cjpetoskey on
I think the author should question where some of their perceptions of things comes from. Is it clouded by a colonial perspective? I myself have had to and still continue to question my view of things. Is this my true cultural s perception or does this come from the years of indoctrination by the oppressors standards. The mission schools damage is deeper than we realize. Just a thought,lol

Julia Clark
Julia Clark
Submitted by Julia Clark on
"For some reason, non-Natives think that mimicry is a way to honor" One reason is because of this expression: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Interestingly, it is contributed to Charles Caleb Colton, And the very first sentence in his Wikipedia article contains, "well known for his eccentricities." Which to me is ironic There is a fine line between imitation and mimicry. Nevertheless, faith based imitation is inappropriate when attending ceremony. One would never go to a Mass dress as a nun, but one may well or even be expected to cover their hair with a scarf or veil. . Mocking, caricatures, and parodies by design are rude.