Just What is a Breechcloth, Anyway?

Good Morning (or afternoon or evening)!

In my writing of the American Indian way of life, I’m often struck by the fact that the men of all tribes of American Indians (save those in the far-far north) wore breechcloths.  Really…  Now, I don’t know about you, but I find the breechcloth quite sexy, so I thought I’d talk about just what the heck they were…or are.

A breechcloth generally looked like this.  They were a style of clothing worn by all American Indian men (and sometimes very young girls until they were of an age to wear dresses).  The breechcloth didn’t just hang down in front and in back like some people might like to believe — they hung over the belt then dipped down on the other side of the belt, and up again in back and again hung over the belt in back, so that if a flap were pulled up, a man would look as though he were wearing underwear.

Off to the right here is another drawing of a man wearing a breechcloth, but this time it’s being worn with leggings —  leggings were a sort of “pant” which were usually made from some soft, yet durable material, like buckskin.  Often the seam that sewed the legs of the pant together were decorated with a fine line of fring or beadwork.  But the breechcloth was a garment that was worn primarily and almost continually.   Often in summer the breechcloth was worn without leggings, which would look something like this picture off to the left.

I guess it might be easy to understand why the Europeans who first came here and met the Indians might have thought they wore too little — and vice versa — to the Indian the sun was a source of food (which it actually is — vitamin D3) and so to cover the body while in the sun seemed mighty foolish to the Native American.  It’s perhaps stating the obvious that many a feminine eye (when no one was looking of course) might have been studying that breechcloth.

The picture off to the right here is one I particularly like — it is of a Lakota chief, Big Eagle.  I have this picture in my files, but I must admit that the picture that I have is a little more stunning than this one is.  But you can clearly see the breechcloth.  Now to the Amerian Indian woman looking at the men — the wearing of  a breechcloth — even if only worn alone — was as common a sight to see as we might think of looking at a man in jeans.  Of course there are men wearing jeans…and then there are men wearing…JEANS.  Probably the same would have gone back then. 

Here to the left is another picture of a breechcloth.  Briefly, for those interested, to make the breechcloth wasn’t too difficult.  The breechcloth was made from a long piece of skin or cloth.  It was about 10 or more inches wide and could be as long as about 5 feet.  The clothing usually fell, depending on the style of the tribe, to about a hands width above the knees.  The material, if a skin, was softly tanned, and it became the standard piece of clothing that a man wore almost always.  If leggings were worn, as in the picture here, they were usually made from single skins, were usually form fitting and had a seam that ran along the seam of the leg of the animal used.  They were cut so that the hip portion was higher and slanting toward the crotch for comfort and for a good fit.  The upper part of the legging was tied to the belt and oftentimes another garter was used to hold the leggings to the front, so that it didn’t slip.

And here are some of my favorite pictures of the breechcloths on men.  This picture to the right is from the movie, Dances With Wolves.  I’ve always liked this picture — to me it says alot — including the study of these men, watching of the buffalo.

I’m not certain what movie this picture was from — but I do like it alot.  Although this picture is of Native American actors of today, it has all the flavor of the past.  It is, indeed, one of my favorites.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this rather intriguing discussion (picture-wise) of breechcloths.  So tell me, if it were you and you were seeing a man wearing a breechcloth  for the first time, do you think you would have stared?  Now be honest.

Once when I went to a pow-wow long, long ago, there was a man who was dressed in breechcloth and little more.  I must admit that it was hard not to watch him — and, indeed, he had quite a few ladies following him at that pow-wow.  A friend of mine, Michael Badnarik, tells a story of being at an art show and a fellow showed up in breechcloth and leggings.  Michael remarked that he’d never seen so many women stare at a man.  Is there any wonder why?

But to the American  Indian it was nothing more than the standard way in which a man dressed, especially considering that the sun was considered in the same light as food.  What do you think your reaction would have been…if any?

So come on in and let’s chat.

Also, stay tuned.  On December 11th, LAKOTA SURRENDER, my first novel, will be being released from Samhain publishing in eb0ok format.  It will be the first time the book is back in print in many, many years.  I’ll keep you informed of the progress…

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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29 thoughts on “Just What is a Breechcloth, Anyway?”

  1. Thanks for this post, Karen. What a great way to start the day.

    Speaking from experience, and honestly, I stared…for quite some time. :o)

    I look forward to the release of LAKOTA SURRENDER. I’ve made note on my calander.

  2. Great Post Karen. I think I would be staring too…Native American men ARE quite beautiful!!
    I too am looking forward to reading another great book from you. I have loved all of them so far.

  3. Honestly these days, i doubt i’d stare at someone in a breechcloth. with all the midriff t-shirts and micro mini’s, the piercings and tatoos, the weird hair and weird make-up, what’s a breechcloth gonna do to draw your attention.
    I do like knowing that about there being something under it. That always made me nervous.


  4. Hi Kay!
    Loved this informative post of yours! This was so interesting and something I had wondered about, myself. I probably would stare if I saw someone dressed in nothing but a breechcloth. Just sayin’. Great pictures, too. Can’t wait for the return of your very first novel. That’s gotta be exciting!
    Cheryl P.

  5. I did a bit of staring myself, Kay… And I agree with Mary’s comment that a breechcloth wouldnt be that noticeable today.
    Congratulations on the new release. Great that it will be available to readers again.

  6. I’d probably try so hard not to stare that it would end up being more embarrasing than actually staring. LOL.

    Great stuff, Karen. And like Mary, I was glad to learn of the underneath layer. I always wondered how they would handle those prairie winds and keep everything covered.

  7. Good morning, Karen. Glad I finally made it before midnight.

    Great pictures. Actually, the first man I saw in a breechcloth was in the Philippines. The mountain tribes wear them. In this case, the man in question was a stooped over, skinny, older gentleman. In my three years there, I saw many men in them. We forget that not everyone in a breechcloth is a handsome, young brave in good physical condition. We have a reenactment/play about a 1700’s battle between settlers her in TN and the Cherokee at a reconstructed fort near here every summer. The “indians” all wear breechcloths. Some look better in them than others, but all wear them well.

    My husband has leather breeches but no breechcloth. My son has worn a breechcloth and I have the leather to make his leggings. My son does wear it well. It is a convenient piece of clothing. It is comfortable, leaves you free to move around as needed, and can be added to when the weather gets cold.

    Thanks for another interesting post.

  8. Good morning, Tammy!

    Thank you so much for the compliment on my books. Makes my heart soar with joy!

    Well, I think of it like jeans today — there are men in jeans that make the heart trip all over itself — and then there are men in jeans that one doesn’t look at at all. Probably the same reaction back then from the feminine perspective.

    It’s just so rare for me to see a man in a breechcloth — and a good-looking one, that I’m afraid that I do stare. 🙂 Sigh…

  9. Hi Mary!

    You know, it’s funny. I’ve always known the way that the breechcloth was worn and so it didn’t occur to me to think how others might view it. But yes, if one didn’t know that a man’s privates were protected from view, it might have caused a stir to think of those prairie winds (which were constant)… 🙂

  10. Hi Cheryl!

    Yes, I must admit that not only would I stare, I most certainly did. Yes, it’s great to see these books coming back into print and on ebooks — I haven’t had a copy of LAKOTA SURRENDER in quite a while — when I see them in used bookstores, I always buy them. 🙂

  11. Hi Elizabeth!

    You know even in the world of today — with all its nudity and such — there was something about seeing a man in a breechcloth that caught the attention. Yes, we seem them in similar type of clothing at the beach and such, but there is definitely something about seeing this in person that was unusual.

    Another unusual fact was that when racing, the Native American — according to Catlin, who raced this way himself, much to his embarrassment — was to ride the horse completely in the nude — another obscure fact that I tried to bring to light in a couple of my books. 🙂

  12. I haven’t had the pleasure of viewing any man in a breech cloth. The rarity of it would definitely catch my eye. I’m sure some men do look better than others in the breech cloth. I liked learning about the breech cloth. Thanks for the info Kay.

  13. Hi Karen!

    Yes, until I read a post where someone was concerned about it, it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone wouldn’t know that they were completely covered.

    Interestingly, an elder in the Lakota tribe once told me that when “pants” were given to the Indians, they didn’t know how to put them on and had to be taught. It wasn’t stupidity, it was simply it was different and unknown. Interesting stuff, huh?

  14. Good morning, Patricia!

    Yes, I’ve seen many a breechcloth since I often go to pow-wows. But most nowadays are of cloth and not leather. This one particular one was done in the style of the past — in leather, which I think is another reason why it so captured the eye of the beholder.

    And yes, there are still many tribes that wear them. Apparently, they are extremely comfortable, as you say.

    Thanks for your thoughts and insight. 🙂

  15. I never thought about how they actually worked – quite clever. It’s closer to men in swimsuits – some can pull it off and some can’t lol. Especially in a speedo lol. Interesting as always.

  16. Good Morning, Catslady!

    Yes, probably closer to men in swimsuits — if only the breechcloth is worn — but usually (outside of summer months) the leggings were worn, also — thus my analogy to jeans…

    So nice to see you here today! 🙂

  17. Very interesting, Kay. I never knew much about this subject. Like Mary I wondered what would happen when the wind blew up the breech cloth. I’m glad to know the men are covered up. Thanks for clearing up some misunderstandings.

  18. Karen, I learn so much from all of your posts. I agree that a man in a breechcloth would be difficult to look away from. I watched a special on the making of Dances with Wolves the other night and remember the scene you pictured. Love that movie and have friends who are dressed as mountain men in it. Most of their scene was cut from the theater release but I have a copy of the longer movie and I watch it often.

    I will look forward to the release of your book!!

  19. Hi Connie!

    I, too, love that scene and I also have the long version, which I think is the best — regardless of how long it is. Many times the parts they cut away were the parts of the Indians, which were the parts I enjoyed most. 🙂

  20. Hi Karen, thanks so much for this great post. If I saw a guy in a breechcloth I would definitely be looking. Oh, yeah, baby! 🙂

    Loved the post and congratulations on the release of your first book! YAY!

    Have a great evening 🙂

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