While flipping through Native Peoples magazine one day in 2003, I came across a photo spread of contemporary Native high fashion. It intrigued me how the designers incorporated elements from their cultures’ traditional art forms into high fashion. Who were these designers, how did they break into the competitive world of high fashion, and how did they do it on their own culturally specific terms?
These questions led to my 2006 Master’s thesis, which explored the world of Native high fashion and wearable art, and focused on the life and artwork of Chickasaw/Choctaw weaver Margaret Roach Wheeler and the Squamish designer Pamela Baker. Through them, I investigated several aspects of Native high fashion, including the use of clothing as a communicator, clothing as a means of perpetuating aspects of Native cultures, and the use of clothing in honoring and expressing status and identity. The purpose of my dissertation is to build on my Master’s research and to document the Native fashion movement and the evolution of Native American dress as fashion.
Through this blog I hope to share excerpts from my thesis, thoughts from my dissertation, information about contemporary Indigenous fashion and its designers, and updates on Native fashion events. Also through this blog, I hope to explore issues in Native fashion including cultural misappropriation, differing concepts of beauty, and deconstructing the “model” body image.
The genesis of this blog came about from four sources: First, I have been thinking about how I can make my research and writing more accessible to a broader audience. For the most part, dissertations are inaccessible to the average person. Second, I was working as a consultant and co-curator with Shelby Tisdale at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on their exhibit Native Couture II: Innovation and Style when Shelby suggested the title of the exhibit be Beyond Buckskin (the name was scrapped, and Innovation and Style was the adopted title). Beyond Buckskin is an apt title - it deconstructs stereotypes, and suggests looking at the topic of contemporary clothing design from a new perspective, so I wanted to use this title for this blog. Third, one of my best friends, Mercedes, introduced me to the world of blog-o-fun via Tumblr, where I started a Beyond Buckskin blog, but wanted to select another venue that would be more searchable. Then, one of my routine online searches for the latest in Native fashion led me to the blog site of Lisa Charleyboy. Her blog on 'Urban Native Girl Stuff' was inspiring. I wanted to do something that would combine these sources of inspiration into an accessible blog, which also confronted and discussed contemporary issues from a fresh angle.