Moccasins – Then and Now

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The footwear that we know as the moccasin came down to us in its many variations from a simple method of footwear design that was shared by Native Americans. The moccasin in all its styles really refers to how the shoe is made.

moccasinAll moccasins share the fact that they are made from a single piece of leather in a way that the sole extends up the sides of the footwear and then is sewn together without a separate heel. The word moccasin originates from an Algonquin word for “shoes.” Each tribe back then would have had its own word for shoes, so moccasin is really a European interpretation of the original Algonquin word “maskisina.” Since each of the different European groups that encountered the Algonquin heard it slightly differently there are at least five spellings for moccasin (mocasin, mocassin, moccassin, mocassions, and mocussin).

 

Though the method of making Native American footwear was pretty much the same across all tribes, it is a mistake to think this resulted in moccasins all looking the same. Some groups added fringes, in some the sides were higher – more like a boot, and each tribe had such a distinctive interpretation on the shoe that they could tell which tribe a person belonged to because of its unique style.

And just as it was then, it is also true today that there are many, many different styles of moccasins. Some moccasins are sold as house slippers. These are nearly always soft soled not meant to be worn outside and often come with a sheepskin or fleece interior to keep your feet toasty warm – a great feature on cold floors!

Outside moccasins come in both soft-sole and hard-sole. An important thing to think about is whether a soft sole or hard sole is appropriate for your needs. Soft soled outside moccasins (e.g. not slippers) can be worn for quick trips to the market or over to a friend’s house, but hard soled moccasins are preferable in more formal settings and places like hospitals, restaurants or bars. There has been at least one case of a person being refused service at a bar because of soft soled moccasins so be careful about where you decide to wear your soft soled moccasin.

Some are very traditional and resemble the original Native footwear and others are much more formal (loafers, or boat shoes). There are moccasins that resemble ankle boots and ones that go all the way up to the knee.

Moccasins are very easy to find online from very well-known moccasins companies, such as Minnetonka Moccasin Company, but even companies not known for moccasins now sell them (e.g. J. Crew). There are also very small boutique companies founded by Native Americans who make moccasins with a modern-day twist. Some very stylish moccasins made by hand following the old traditions can be found at The Indian Village Mall, Moccasin Shop (look for the Navajo, Taos and Pueblo moccasins). Their moccasins come in an array of vibrant colors, shapes and styles. They offer ankle boots, low-cut slip-ons, knee-high boots and even a “sandal” moccasin.

Terrence Hooper is a writer and avid fan of moccasins for guys. Check out his websites to learn more about why they make great shoes for men: Moccasins For Guys and Minnetonaka Hard Soles.

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