One of the basic characteristics of fashion through the ages is that fashion elements or styles can and will cross cultural, social, and national boundaries. Fashion crossover varies by era with some styles having more of an impact than others and is largely dependent on the degree of cultural contact between the two groups in question.
For the 19th Century, there are the well-known examples of the introduction of the Paisley shawl, or more properly Kashmir shawl, and the trend of Japonisme.
For the 19th Century, it would have seemed that cross-cultural fashion influences were a one-way street with the West incorporating style elements from other cultures. However, in reality this was not always the case. Viewing it the other way, other cultures often adopted Western dress in an effort to assimilate or otherwise accommodate themselves to the West’s influence, an influence achieved by a combination of imperial expansion and cultural penetration.
The question of cross-cultural fashion influences are closely linked to the West’s imperial expansion during the 19th Century, an expansion that too many dimensions ranging from outright military action to economic, social, and cultural conquest and this “conquest” often took indirect and subtle forms. For the United States, expansion meant conflict with the indigenous tribes of Native Americans in the West. By the late 19th Century, this conflict had largely resulted in most of the tribes being placed on reservations of varying size and location.
For the Shoshone of the Pacific Northwest, the situation was no different and by 1900, the various bands making up the Shoshone were living on a number of reservations scattered throughout California, Nevada, and Idaho. Below are two pictures that were taken of Chief Tindoor or Tendoy of the Lemhi Shoshone sometime in the 1890s by Benedicte Wrensted:
The above two pictures are interesting in that it’s the wife, Nena Bear, who is wearing a Western clothes. Judging from her outfit, this would appear to have been taken during the mid to late 1890s and at least sometime after 1895 (Benedicte Wrensted established her photo studio in 1895). Judging from her expression, it appears that she was having more fun with the photo session than her husband was. Also, these two pictures are in contrast to the usual sorts of period portraits of Native Americans where the subjects are stiff and formal (and understandably so).
Below is a more typical portrait:
These pictures are very striking in that it demonstrates cultural cross-over in terms of fashion while at the same raising many questions in regard to the interaction of cultures. At the same time, they also represent an interesting variation on the conventions of photography of the time. In the end, all we can say is that we just liked the pictures. 🙂
While the 19th Century is a fascinating era for us in terms of fashion and design, we also want to note that its history has not been the most exemplary when it came to the West’s (Europe and the United States) interaction with the rest of the world. There are many elements that people today find repellant and they struggle with just how to deal with them. We believe that past history can not, nor should not, be suppressed by the imposition of our own values but rather we should acknowledge them in the hopes that we can improve the human condition for everyone.