June 4, 2010

Video | 1950s 'Tribal Trend': The Squaw Dress

I came across this archival video on the 'Making Owls Cool Since 1986' blog site. It's a video of Arizona fashion in the 1950s (in particular, the squaw dress). This time period was also when Cherokee designer Lloyd Kiva New was a celebrated couturier. The video is really interesting to me for 2 main reasons:

First, it reminds me of the world in which Lloyd Kiva New lived - it was segregated and stratified, and to me this makes his successes and accomplishments even more notable. Secondly, it depicts a 1950s version of the tribal trend. Currently, the Indian in fashion is a major fad (check out the Native Appropriations blog) - and I think that a comparative analysis of the 1950s squaw dress and the 2010 hipster headdress would be a fantastic study. Maybe I'll do that this summer... hmm.. anyways, here's the video:

The video features the squaw dress, and my dissertation advisor, Nancy Parezo, has conducted research on this fashion phenomenon. You can read her article on the Squaw dress here.

Parezo explains:
The Squaw Dress, a categorization label for several types of one- and two-piece dresses, was a regional style in the American Southwest in the late 1940s and became a national dress trend in the 1950s. Its defining feature, a full, tiered skirt, came in three shapes: (1) a slightly gathered skirt based on Navajo dress; (2) a "broomstick" or pleated skirt based on Navajo and Mexican attire; and (3) a fully gathered, three-tiered skirt based on contemporary Western Apache Camp Dresses or Navajo attire. ... (4) Squaw Dresses were extremely popular because of their comfort and regional indigenous associations. They represented both idealized femininity and Americanness because of their Native American origins. This is one reason for the label; American designers, coming into their own in the ready-to-wear and casual clothing markets, were determined to distinguish themselves from European designers. What better way to do this than to use names associated with and design ideas borrowed from or inspired by the First Americans?

Cool Owl also found this 1955 Ocala Star Banner article, which highlights the 'squaw' dresses created by Lloyd Kiva New.

When the squaw dress trend took off, designers in the Northeast US began making their own versions, but, in this article, New, along with the other designers, claimed to be the ones who made the real versions. He explained, “Out here, we know how to make them. They are a modern expression of an ancient primitive art. Imitations always look phony.”

At one point, New employed fifteen Native American assistants to help him create his purses and fashion designs - providing economic opportunities and opening new doors for Native artists. Later, he went on to co-found the Institute of American Indian Arts - the premiere Native arts institution.

It's a really interesting newspaper clipping so definitely check it out!

Here's some images of Lloyd Kiva New and his dresses: