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The Northern Plains beaded collar and necktie.

The turn of the nineteenth century saw continued change in Northern Plains material culture. This evolution entailed not only the increased adoption of newly available trade materials for use in tribal regalia, but also the assimilation of external styles and fashions borrowed both from neighboring tribes and from the white man's world. Some of these assorted influences were novel and quite surprising.

One innovation in men's regalia that made an appearance on the Canadian Plains in the 1920s and 30s is the beaded collar and necktie set. Countless old photographs of Blackfoot, Stoney, Plains Cree and Sarsi men in their ceremonial clothing bear testimony to its popularity.

Obviously inspired by the Euro-American detachable shirt collar and necktie, the collar and necktie set is an example of the common Native American fondness for borrowing an idea and turning it into something new and uniquely "Indian" in flavor.

The Plains Indian trend for copying white clothing styles dates back at least to the previous century. In the 1880s, for example, many Plains peoples began to make elaborately beaded versions of store-bought vests, as well as gauntlet style gloves, probably copied from U.S. military prototypes. 'Chap' style leggings, commonly adopted by the Blackfoot and other groups around the turn of the century, were copied from cowboy work gear.

The beaded collar and tie was made either of canvas or buckskin and generally beaded in couched overlay technique (applique, or spot stitch). Most examples are made of canvas, sometimes stiffened with thick brown paper, and backed with cotton cloth. Decoration generally takes the form of either geometric or floral motifs, either on a solidly beaded or plain hide background.

The first example illustrated (Fig. 1) is in the author's collection, and probably originates from the Blackfoot or the Stoney. Dating somewhere between 1920 and late 1930s, it is decorated with a striking design of bold hearts in red sparkling and opaque red beads on a background of medium blue Venetian beads. The sparkling beads are of French stock, and were particularly popular amongst the Canadian Plains tribes in the 1920s and 30s. The opaque red beads are probably of Czech stock. The beadworker seems to have struggled somewhat with the beads for the background, as two separate variants of blue are employed. This was a common occurrence in Native American beadwork, when bead supplies dried up and new stocks of beads were of a different batch and the color match was imperfect.


Both components, collar and necktie, are backed with red cotton cloth and edged with a decorative beaded edging technique. The lower end of the necktie is decorated with beaded loop suspensions.

The tapered necktie measures a total of 33 cm in length and 8.5 cm in maximum width; the collar section is 43.5 cm in length, 5.5 cm in maximum width. The two pieces are joined by means of metal snap fasteners.

The second example, illustrated in Fig. 2, was collected from Nut Lake (Plains Ojibwa) Reserve, Saskatchewan, circa 1970, and dates between 1940-50. It belonged to a grass dancer named Jack Sunshine, and is part of a matching grass dance outfit in the collection of the author. Of particular note are the horse head motifs in faceted black beads, used in conjunction with typically Plains Ojibwa (Bungi) floral designs. The necktie measures 29 cm in length, 15.3 cm in maximum width; the collar is 38 cm long and 7 cm wide at the widest point.


This collar and necktie set is beaded in a combination of couched overlay and lane-stitch techniques on cream-colored canvas, and edged with dark blue sateen ribbon and sequin trim. The collar measures approximately 40 cm in length, 7.5 cm in maximum width; the necktie is 27 cm long, (excluding the 6 cm bead fringe), 10.5 cm at its widest point. The two parts attach by means of thin buckskin laces.

A third example, illustrated in Fig. 3, is in the collections of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. The collar is decorated with meandering floral designs in couched overlay technique, employing a range of opaque, sparkling and faceted metallic beads on a plain unbeaded smoked hide background. The tie is beaded with similar floral motifs, also on an unbeaded hide background. The designs are bordered with zigzags of hexagonal tubular beads. Both components are backed with a tartan patterned cotton fabric.


Beaded collar and necktie sets of this type were worn in conjunction with either beaded buckskin shirt or fully-beaded vest. (See Figs. 5-10). From around the 1940s, the collar and necktie was adopted as a new fashion accessory by Northern grass dancers. These versions were often made of dark fabric and decorated with colored sequins, rick-rack braid, and commercial fringe. They were popular for several decades amongst the Blackfoot, Stoney, Sarsi, Plains Cree and Plains Ojibwa.



Canadian Plains beadworkers always had to be on the lookout for viable ideas to supplement their incomes on the reserves. Some sets were made for sale to early tourist visitors to the Rocky Mountain area.

The trend was also spread by various other Native groups, including certain Intermontane and Plateau tribes (see front cover photograph), and the Great Lakes tribes. Pictured in Fig. 4a and 4b is a loom-beaded example with naturalistic floral design representing grapes and vine leaves. Note that it is made in the form of a European style necktie with two pendent tabs, one positioned behind the other as a real necktie would appear when worn. It measures 25.5 cm in overall length, 4.5 cm in maximum width, and lacks the collar part normally associated with Northern Plains examples.


The vogue for beaded collar and tie sets has never faded out completely. They continue to be made and worn with traditional outfits by the modern-day Blackfoot, Stoney, Plains Cree, and other other northern groups, particularly for parades and other ceremonial events. They are representative of the persistent blending of indigenous and non-indigenous concepts of tribal dress and accoutrements, extending even further the complex boundaries of tribal styles. This innovative process seems to have occurred from the earliest of times amongst Native American groups, and is still taking place today.






The author would like to thank Raphael Ponce of Toulouse, France, M. Klein of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, and Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, Birmingham, England for their kind permission to use images of beaded neckties in their respective collections as illustrations in this article.

This article was originally published in Bead Society of Great Britain newsletter 75 (October 2004).
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Author:Green, Richard
Publication:Whispering Wind
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2008
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