Powwow regalia is a powerful mode of self-expression that blends historical and modern dress. Worn with responsibility and pride, the clothing represents community traditions and personal tastes.
A dancer’s powwow outfit is a collection of items that reflect their lives, interests, and family background. Many wear garments that are family heirlooms or gifts crafted by family members. They incorporate a variety of modern elements and materials, from T-shirts and pins to Walmart moccasins. These ensembles evolve over time, reflecting changes in the dancer’s life and in the fashion of the time. Dancers always wear some form of headgear, whether a war bonnet, porcupine head roach, headdress, ribbon, or band, as a sign of formality. They carry objects such as feathered fans, fur-wrapped hoops, or staffs.
Before stepping into the dance circle, dancers make sure all of their accessories are securely fastened. If a dancer loses part of their dress, there are particular ceremonies and protocol to ensure that the spiritual balance of the dance is not disturbed. Eagle feathers are desecrated if they are touched inappropriately. If an eagle feather falls off in a dance, others dance around it, protecting it, until it can be properly retrieved, cleaned, and returned.
To take sacred elements of another tribe’s powwow tradition is considered disrespectful. As Gregory Gomez says, “We do not wear the regalia, we do not dance the dance, we do not sing the songs of other tribal people.” Since Gomez’s family is Apache, based in the Southwest—far from the Plains where powwow originated—he could not participate in powwow songs and dances growing up. He could only become a dancer when he was adopted into cultures that powwow, including the Kiowa warrior society.