Navajo Wedding Dress
Our lives are defined by a series of great moments, where everything seems to change. Birth, reaching adulthood, and even graduating from college represent moments that stand out and define our lives. It would be without saying that a wedding is just as important. Signaling a step into adulthood and a new role in life, weddings can deep and long lasting cultural significance.
This is especially true when it comes to the Navajo people. Having been displaced, relocated, and confined over the past 200 years, the Navajo have managed to keep their traditions, culture, and even aspects of their way of life. Weddings and wedding ceremonies represent a big part of how the culture is passed on.
One aspect of Navajo culture reflected in clothing is the Navajo wedding dress. Let’s take a look at how the Navajo wedding dress evolved, what is currently being worn by people having Navajo weddings, and a quick look at the Navajo wedding ceremony. With any luck, by the time you finish this article, you will know everything there is to know about Navajo wedding dresses.
Navajo Wedding Dress Evolution
Just as in Navajo culture, a dress is considered a more formal article of clothing. Towards the beginning however, the Navajo people wore far less. Mythology and tales tell of the earliest Navajo woman wearing dear skin skirts. In addition to being clothing, these skins would be used for a myriad of other purposes when something came up. Finally, the deer skin skirts lacked vibrant color, and were mostly tan and brown.
A change occurred some time in the 1600’s, when there was a shift among the Navajo away from dear skin. Changes in weaving techniques and advancements in application led to woman wearing mantas, or wrap around blankets. It is though that the Navajo may have learned this from their Pueblo neighbors. Mantas were normally black and blue in color.
The Mantas slowly shifted out of favor however as two piece dresses, consisting of more and more vibrant colors became fashionable. As western cultures slowly took over the country, such cloths were relegated to special use and ceremonies.
The Four Colors
There are four colors prominent in Navajo dress and wedding dresses. They refer to mythology held by the Navajo, and relate to the black world, the blue world, the yellow world, and the white world. Along with being on the Navajo flag, it was believed that a person would have to pass through all the worlds before finally arriving at the black world. Such cultural significance means that most Navajo wedding dresses will have some or all of these colors.
The Form of the Navajo Wedding Dress
More traditional Navajo wedding dresses are not tight around the bodice, but flowing. In addition, it normally includes a flowing skirt that extends down to the feet. Many earlier examples of the dress include a collar, as well as a V-neck. Finally, most dresses include a colorful belt with extra material that trails behind.
Color Choices of Navajo Dresses
As stated before, the primary colors of importance for the Navajo are black, yellow, blue, and black. As a result, there are many early examples of Navajo wedding dresses that incorporate these colors. While a few had decorated trim, the majority were of a single continuous color throughout the dress.
As elements of the Navajo culture have become more mainstream, wedding dresses have also changed. No longer strictly lose fitting and one of four colors, Navajo wedding dresses have branched out to include oranges and reds as well. In addition, Navajo patterning is often included around the base of the dress.
The Navajo wedding ceremony, like the Navajo dress, is determined by a complex set of rules that have more recently been relaxed. First, the proposal is not done by the man, but the family of the man who makes the request to the parents of the woman. After the request is made, if there is a chance that the two many marry, then a dowry is decided on. Unlike western cultures, the parents of the man pay the dowry to the parents of the woman. Where as this was originally agricultural gifts, the kinds of things included in the Dowry have changed to better reflect the needs of the Navajo.
The wedding ceremony itself would take place in a Hogan, or a traditional dwelling of arbor branches. The hut symbolized the married couples’ new freedom and family. Now, weddings usually take place in a pre-existing Hogan, instead of in one that is created. Prior to the wedding, a number of ceremonial items are gathered. There is a proper ceremony, ceremonial meals, and eventually the newly married couple retires to their new home.