Clothing was generally made from skins of animals, sewn together with strips of hide or with a thread made from the sinews of a deer or the fibers of a plant which early explorers called "the silk plant". In the winter, the fur was left on and worn next to the skin.
Clothing was made of animal skins, feathers, and cloth made of woven fibers, such as those found in the bark of young mulberry saplings. They also spun yarn from the hair of certain animals, much as wool is spun into yarn.
Jewelry and ornaments were made of shell, copper, and mica. Beads were made of mussel shells, which were mostly white. The mussel shells have a small spot of purple on each one so that just one purple bead could be made from each shell. There was a much higher value placed on the rarer purple beads. Pearls had a very great value and were worn by the wealthy.
Most of what we know about the clothing worn then comes from drawings and written reports of the Europeans who first came in contact with the Indians. The Indians had an oral tradition and did not put much on written or pictured records, although the Aztecs and the Mayas in Mexico had a written language and it is possible that the Southeastern Tribes knew about this.
After European contact, the Cherokee fashion changed to Cherokee Ribbon Shirt for the men and Cherokee Tear Dress for the women.
The Cherokee Tear Dress is so called because all of the pieces are torn from a single length of fabric. All of the parts of the dress are either squares are rectangles. Since scissors were a rare item in most homes, construction of the dress was simple. The height and length from neck to waist and the waist size was all that was needed to know, in order to make the dress.
Approximately eight to ten yards of 36-inch fabric was used, depending upon gathering and fullness. Gathering was done on the neck opening, arm opening, bodice and skirt. Panels of contrasting material, usually decorated, were inserted on lower sleeves and a few inches above the hem of the skirt. All stitching was done by hand. The "tear dress" is usually worn floor length today.
"Cherokee Moccasins" - The moccasin was a very important part of the Cherokee dress. Moccasins worn during the daily chores were rather plain with few decorations. Footwear worn during ceremonies and special times were decorated with such things as quillwork, embroidery, fringe, red dyed hair, tin jinglers, seed beads, small bells, turkey spurs, etc.
Moccasins became easily soaked during the rainy seasons, but this was remedied by rubbing bear grease, or some other kind of animal fat, into the leather to make it water resistant.
Warm weather moccasins or boots were of plain leather. Those worn during cold weather had fur on the inside. The Cherokee adapted their footwear to the weather conditions.