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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Clothing

Louis Callihoo The clothing worn by the Métis combined fashions worn by Europeans and Aboriginals, with more colour and their own style. Most clothing was made at home by the women from cloth obtained at the trading posts or from deerskins and moose-hides. Some men’s clothing was bought at the post. Some garments, especially moccasins, snowshoes and jackets, might have been purchased from Aboriginal women or Métis women who were especially skilled.

Men wore cloth or tanned deerskin or moose-hide trousers with beaded (a Métis art-form) or brightly coloured suspenders; their shirts were of wool or cotton in bright colours, with beaded armbands. Sometimes they wore tanned deerskin or moose-hide shirts and jackets decorated with beadwork. On their feet they wore woollen stockings and beaded moose-hide moccasins; sometimes deerskin or moose-hide leggings; and on their heads woollen caps or large broad-brimmed hats. For warmth they wore a capote (a garment like a modern-day parka) made from a Hudson's Bay blanket. It was fastened around the waist with bright scarlet or multi-coloured sashes, which was finger-woven from wool and could be up to twenty feet long. This Métis Sash was a most useful article of clothing as it was used as a belt, for hauling canoes over portages and whenever else a rope or a chain was needed. It also fulfilled the function of a back support, like a weight belt. Very broad and conspicuous belts of the same colour, ornamented with beads, crossing their breasts and backs to which they append powder-horns and shot-pouches. The tobacco pouch also became a very elaborate bag with finger-like extensions, all decorated with beadwork. Leggings of variously coloured cloths were worn by the men, all more or less ornamented by the women with beads or silk thread according to taste. Moccasins were garnished with porcupine quills, dyed red, blue, and yellow, or beaded. Men carried their rifles in ornamented covers. They wore a wide variety of hats of all shapes, sizes and materials.

Metis womenWomen were very style-conscious and fashioned clothing that was attractive as well as serviceable out of whatever material was available. Early in Métis history, they wore dresses which resembled Aboriginal women’s dress. This dress was long and straight, and hung from a yoke (something like that in a cowboy shirt, except extending over the shoulder) to which were attached long straight sleeves. The dress extended to mid-calf, and showed the decorated leggings that were worn with it. The top of the dress became more European in appearance. At one point, the blouse was long in front, to tuck into the skirt, and short in the back, with a peplum or frill which overhung the skirt. They wore skirts and full-sleeved colourful blouses pleated at the bodice and tucked into the skirt. Their skirts were gathered and decorated with ribbons. Sometimes they wore sashes similar to the men's. Women's footwear was beaded moccasins and highly decorated velvet or woollen leggings. In some communities the leggings and moccasins were combined into high-top moccasins. High button shoes were highly prized by the women, but rare. On their heads they wore scarves or shawls. The women wrapped a blanket about them in the winter and a shawl in the summer. Sometimes they made coats from Hudson's Bay blankets. Later, they bought their clothing ready-made in European fashions from the depots.

Children were dressed in the same styles of clothing as the adults. Moss-filled bags kept babies warm and comfortable. Anecdotal evidence tells us that girls and women converted to wearing cloth clothing, while boys and men continued wearing buckskin jackets and leggings, especially while hunting or travelling.

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Clothing

Needlework

Tools (snowshoes, traps, scrapers)

Toys (rattles, dolls, games)

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