Moccasins 101: An Introduction
Moccasins are the footwear most often associated with traditional North American footwear. Depending on location and available materials, other types of footwear were also worn: woven sandals, boots, and leggings attached to shoes. The origins of moccasins undoubtedly originate in climates and conditions that made it necessary to make protective footwear. Wearing moccasins or boots would have been essential to keep feet from freezing. In warm weather and mild surroundings, protective footwear would be less important and people could easily go barefoot.
Why do we call this footwear “Moccasins”?
Ultimately, the word “moccasin” came to identify the leather footwear of most of the Indian people of North American due to the circumstances of earliest contacts between white settlers along the New England coast and their nearest native neighbors. The word moccasin derives from the Algonquian language Powhatan word makasin and from the Proto-Algonquian word “maxkeseni” (shoe). “Moccasin” traditionally referred to a shoe with a puckered u-shaped “vamp” over the instep. The name of the Great Lakes Ojibway tribe means “people of the puckered moccasin”. The southern New England Narragansett word for shoe is “Mocussinass” or “Mockussinchass”. Today the word moccasin, known by a variety of spellings, generally refers to all types of hard and soft soled shoe styles, with and without puckered toes, originating with Native Americans.
Moccasins Fit the Foot, an the Environment
Hard Soled Moccasins
Native American moccasin styles, how they were designed, and the materials used to make them, were the result of their specific environment. Hard-sole moccasins always made in rights and lefts, and usually made from two or more pieces of hide, are associated with the western plains and deserts areas. The thick, hard sole of shaped rawhide and fitted leather upper required more tailoring than other types of moccasins. Hard-soled moccasins protect feet from harsh cactus or prairie-grass covered ground or sharp rocks.
Soft Soled Moccasins
Soft-soled moccasins, often made from a single piece of leather, were common in the Eastern Forests and were made