The Squaw Dress

The term ‘Squaw dress’ is used to describe a two-piece dress with an aesthetic borrowed from the Southwest Apache, Navajo and Pueblo Native cultures that stretch between Tucson, Arizona and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Similar styles known as Fiesta dresses borrowed styling from further south, in Mexico. The rickrack trimmed tiered skirt style of a squaw dress was also known as a “broomstick skirt,” because the fabric was wrapped around a broomstick to create creases.

The style was originally a regional style of dress that became defined in the late 1940s, but as they were sold through department stores across the U.S. the style exploded in popularity in the 1950s, only losing popularity when the fashion for full skirts fell from favour in the mid 1960s. Some of the earliest makers of these dresses include Tucson’s Dolores Gonzales, Cele Peterson, George Fine, and Lloyd Kiva New, but it was Albuquerque’s Jeanette Pave that was probably the most prolific manufacturer. Polish born Henry Pave and his wife Jeanette opened a store in Albuquerque in 1945. Between 1950 and 1968 Jeanette manufactured and distributed a line of squaw dresses sold under the label ‘Jeanette’s Originals’.

The term ‘squaw dress’ makes some people shudder at the thought of its political incorrectness, however, there has been no official determination from the Native community as to whether the term is considered offensive or not. Historically, the word comes from the Algonquian Native dialect and was used to simply denote female gender, the way the word ‘she’ is used in English, or ‘la’ versus ‘le’ in French. Some consider the word disrespectful, but it’s not the word itself as how it is used that is the issue. When ‘gay’ or ‘jew’ are spoken respectfully there is nothing derogatory about either word, but when spoken with derision or hate, the words take on a different connotation. As it stands, squaw is an acceptable word, when spoken with respect, let’s keep it that way. I would hate to have to refer to the ‘s’ word dress.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.

This entry was posted in Ethnographic, Fadshions and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *