Native American tribes of the Plains and elsewhere had long created garments with fringe, which served as a type of gutter that repelled rainwater from the wearer. Fringe was a border or edge of hanging threads, cords, or strips, and was often found on garments made from suede, leather, and buckskin. Fringe first became a decorative fashion embellishment in the 1920s as part of the flapper look, a popular dress style for women. Skirts suddenly rose above the knee for the first time in Western history, and fringe was used to add a bit of length to the daring styles. But the use of Native American fringe was an outgrowth of the hippie movement of the late 1960s, a youth movement that stressed the rejection of mainstream values and a relaxation of standards of morality and personal conduct. The movement had a huge impact on mainstream society. Young Americans of the era were keenly interested in civil rights. The political gains made by African Americans earlier in the decade had spurred interest in the plight of other oppressed minority groups, including Native Americans. Wearing fringe became a way of showing sympathy for the Native American cause.
The 1969 Hollywood film Easy Rider helped popularize the fringe look as a fashion statement more than a political one. The tale of two drifters who "dropped out" of society, the cult hit featured unique clothing styles. The stars, Peter Fonda (c. 1939–) and Dennis Hopper (1936–), wore casual jackets, and Hopper's fringed brown suede jacket produced an artful effect when he rode his motorcycle. Fringed vests made from brown buckskin were also quite popular at the time, and a store called Tepee Town in Midtown Manhattan offered these and many other Indian looks, including moccasin boots and beaded belts. Designer Giorgio di Sant'Angelo (1933–1989) copied parts of elaborate Native American ceremonial dress for his fall 1970 collection. His designs won the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics' Award. A backlash began around this time, championed by Native American folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie (1941–). She deemed the wearing of such items insensitive to Native Americans of the contemporary era, many of whom lived in great poverty. By the mid-1970s fringe had mainly gone out of style.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Ickeringill, Nan. "We're Stealing from the Indians, Again." New York Times (July 22, 1968): 38.
"The Indian Style." Look (October 20, 1970): 42–49.
Klemesrud, Judy. "Fighting a War on Behalf of Indians." New York Times (October 24, 1970): 20.
fringe / frinj/ • n. 1. an ornamental border of threads left loose or formed into tassels or twists, used to edge clothing or material. 2. chiefly British term for bangs (see bang1 sense 2). ∎ a natural border of hair or fibers in an animal or plant. 3. (often the fringes) the outer, marginal, or extreme part of an area, group, or sphere of activity: his uncles were on the fringes of crooked activity. ∎ (the fringe) the unconventional, extreme, or marginal wing of a group or sphere of activity: the lunatic fringe of American political life rap music is no longer something on the fringe. 4. a band of contrasting brightness or darkness produced by diffraction or interference of light. ∎ a strip of false color in an optical image. 5. short for fringe benefit. • adj. not part of the mainstream; unconventional, peripheral, or extreme: fringe theater. • v. [tr.] decorate (clothing or material) with a fringe: a rich robe of gold, fringed with black velvet. ∎ (often be fringed) form a border around (something): the sea is fringed by palm trees. ∎ [as adj.] (fringed) (of a plant or animal) having a natural border of hair or fiber. DERIVATIVES: fring·y / ˈfrinjē/ adj.
Across all the civilizations living in Mesopotamia (the region centered in present-day Iraq near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers) from 3000 to 300 b.c.e., fringe was a popular and important decorative adornment for the clothing of both men and women. It is believed that fringe was worn by all classes of people. The evidence for how fringe was used and what it looked like is found on sculptures, statues, and described in the writings left by these civilizations.
Fringe adorned the two most basic garments worn in Mesopotamia: the skirt and the shawl. These garments were made out of woven wool or linen, and later, for the wealthiest people, cotton or silk. The hems, or edges, of skirts and shawls were decorated with fringe that either hung straight or was knotted into elaborate designs. Fringe could be cut from the whole piece of cloth that made up the skirt or shawl or it could be a separate piece sewn onto the garment.
In later civilizations of Mesopotamia the fringe on garments became more and more decorative and elaborate. Fringe could be dyed many colors and layered in tiers to cover entire garments. Some men would use the fringe of their shawls as a type of signature for contracts. Instead of using a seal to impress their mark on a clay contract, men would use their unique fringe. Fringe has been used for decoration at other points in human history, notably as decoration on the leather clothes of cowboys in the American West and as a brief fashion trend in the 1970s.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Payne, Blanche. History of Costume: From the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.
[See also Volume 3, Nineteenth Century: American Cowboy box on p. 614 ; Volume 5, 1961–79: Fringe ]