Moccasins have become synonymous with all Native American footwear, however this generalization fails to recognize the wide variety of shoe styles, materials and construction techniques used by different Indigenous peoples across North America. The term Moccasin likely derives from the Algonquian language Powhatan word, makasin, for shoe. After early interactions with white settlers, the term was adopted to describe nearly all footwear worn by Native Americans.
Moccasins are now defined as soft-sided hide shoes sewn with no seams along the lower part. The hide is drawn up around the foot and sewn along the top, allowing for modifications such as legging attachments, inset vamps (hide that covers the space from the toe to ankle) and cuffs, both symmetrical and asymmetrical. Women were often in charge of making moccasins, with different members of the community taking responsibility for the different steps of construction. Moccasins were decorated in various ways with quillwork, animal materials, natural fibers, embroidery and eventually beadwork after the introduction of glass beads through trade. Ornamentations on moccasins, much like the style, varied from culture to culture in order to represent local aesthetics, however the most common motifs are geometric and floral patterns. Modern moccasins and their appropriations–despite using various modern materials, construction techniques and decorative elements–are used as comfortable daily footwear much like they were used hundreds of years ago.
Appropriation and Influence
Geox Respira’s Winter 2019 collection
Softmoc is a Canadian footwear company that primarily sells moccasin-style footwear. Most of its products are mass manufactured by brands without Indigenous ties. The mostly white-owned company profits from selling Native American style shoes without crediting, collaborating or donating to the Indigenous community.
Manitobah Mukluks, 2020
Manitobah Mukluks is an Indigenous-owned company that supports indigenous communities and celebrates their traditions, history and values. All footwear is made in Canada by skilled artisans and comes with a certificate of authenticity.
Apodaca, Paul, Mick Gidley, Deborah A. Middleton, G. Lola Worthington, Margaret Moore Booker, Andrea Laforet, Joanne Danford-Cordingly, J. et al. “Native North American art.” Grove Art Online. 2003.
Kuttruff, Jenna Tedrick. “Evidence about Dress of Indigenous People: United States Territory.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: The United States and Canada, edited by Phyllis G. Tortora, 11–17. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010.
Maynard, Margaret. “Dress and Time.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: Global Perspectives, edited by Joanne B. Eicher and Phyllis G. Tortora. Oxford: Berg, 2010.
Szabo, Joyce M. “Shared and Unique Traditions and Practices.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: The United States and Canada, edited by Phyllis G. Tortora, 360–365. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010.
Thompson, Judy. “The Subarctic.” In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: The United States and Canada, edited by Phyllis G. Tortora, 376–384. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010.
Walford, Jonathan. “Shoes.” In The Berg Companion to Fashion, edited by Valerie Steele. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010.