Kuspuk – The Arctic Muumuu

When the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 the Western Arctic opened up for contact and trade. Christian missions were soon bringing salvation and modesty to the locals, who reportedly walked about dressed in either the skins of animals, or nothing at all (as this 1860 etching of the interior of an Eskimo dwelling depicts.)


The wrapper, a style of house dress made of printed cotton, usually with a flounced hemline and optional belt, were being mass produced by the 1890s. Missionaries gave Native women these unfitted frocks to cover their nakedness and they became popular throughout the South Pacific where the style was called a holoku or muumuu.
In Alaska, wrappers were worn as indoor dresses, but the brightly coloured cotton prints were also worn outdoors as covers over fur parkas. The style became a part of the traditional Alaskan Eskimo costume and slowly morphed over the years to include short versions with hoods and pockets.

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.
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