The History Of Moccasins
When you hear the word “moccasins” you likely think about native Aboriginal or American tribes. But moccasins have actually been used across the entire world in various tribes and cultures from the start, and for the same reasons they were used back then, they are still used just as often today!
Where do moccasins come from?
The word “moccasin” is traced back to Scottish Gaelic language.
“Mo chasin” means “my feet” in Gaelic.
Its root comes from the wild tribes Algonquian language Powhatan word, “makasin”, meaning shoe.
Native Americans are one of the original groups we have to thank for moccasins.
Not only were they great hunters, but they were also great shoemakers (moccasin-makers)!
While hunting for food, killed animals were used for more than just meat.
No part of the animal would go to waste. The skin of the animals was often used for clothing, but the tough leftover of the hide was not as functional.
This more stubborn hide was used to make what we know today as moccasins. Foot protection was very important in the colder parts of the earth, and that is believed to be the inspiration for inventing the moccasins.
Different Types Of Moccasins
Moccasins are simple plain shoes made out of various leathers like our 100% sheepskin moccasins and others often came from skin of deer, buffalo or moose. Originally they were worn by various native tribes such as the Native Americans. The original U-shaped puckered shoe is one of the many varieties of the moccasins.
Moccasins are recognisable by the U-shape of the toe, and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Native American moccasins were designed for their distinct environment and style (ornaments, decorations and embroidery) differed from tribe to tribe.
We have to admit that Native Americans were not only good at hunting, they also had a sense for fashion. Some tribes used additional sheepskin as an insulator for moccasins in colder climates.
Hard Sole Moccasins
These moccasins are usually made out of two or more pieces of hide and were usually worn in western plains and deserts. The hard sole asked for more tailoring than other designs.
Because of the hardness of the sole, these moccasins did a great job protecting from cactus and prairie grass while walking.
The famous upturned toe moccasins were designed to keep sharp objects from the ground from penetrating through the seams and injuring the wearer’s foot.
Soft Sole Moccasins
In contrast with hard soled moccasins, soft soled moccasins are often made out of one piece of leather.
The sole would be pulled over the toe and around the foot and then stitching the cloth would be around the instep.
Soft-soled moccasins were made to be useful for traveling through the woods where ground was covered with leaves and pine needles.
Why The Fringes?
The fringes attached to the shoes of the Native Americans were not just a fashion statement.
Sometimes fringes or a piece of leather would be attached on the heel part of the shoe helping to cover up the footprints of the walker. Stylish and practical!
Moccasins in various cultures
These particular shoes are not bound to Native American cultures only. Similar shape and design was found in Norwegian area, for instance, where the known “loafer” comes from.
The oldest shoe ever found has a very similar design to moccasins worn by Native Americans. Simple yet useful. It was found in a cave in Armenia and is believed to date to 3500 BC.
Mongols used “insulation” in their boots, protecting them from cold. Some say that this sheepskin boot, known today as the “UGG” is a forerunner for moccasins. At the end, nothing is new under the sun!
Australian Moccasin History With Indigenous Aboriginal People
How about the Aboriginals? Did they always walk barefoot in the heat of Australia’s desert?
Apparently not. Shoes made out of emo feathers, known as “kadaitcha” shoes, were found in Central Australia. These shoes are said to be connected to sorcery and witchcraft done by Aboriginal people.
They called them “invisible shoes”.
The earliest idea that Australian Aboriginals wore shoes appeared in 1777 on the east coast of Tasmania by surgeons Anderson and Samwell.
“...some of them had skins secured to their feet which served to defend them from the stones.”
“some bits of kangaroos skin fix’d on their feet with thongs as amongst some labourers of other countries; though it could not be learnt whether these were in use as shoes or only to defend some sore on the feet”
Moccasins are mentioned a hundred years later by John West.
“The tribes to the westward were the finer race: those from South Cape to Cape Grim had better huts, and they wore moccasins on travel.”
So yes, Australia has historical roots to moccasins as well!
Moccasins in modern culture
European settlers settled for moccasins until they could import European-made shoes. Because of their comfort and protection, many of them continued to use moccasins even after European shoes were made available.
As far late as the 19th century, snowshoes and moccasins were worn for protection against natural elements in those European areas.
Here is a letter from 1797 mentioning moccasins that might give you a better perspective on how the settlers looked at native American’s moccasins:
“The Indians here - make mawkinsons (sic) which all the Indians wear instead of shoes and they ornament them very nicely with beads, ribbons, and porcupine quills - I had a squaw spoken to make me some but I have not heard any more of her. Mrs. Simcoe used to wear them over her shoes and she looked very smart.”
-Elizabeth Russell, York, November 1797 (written to a friend in England, from notes taken by Edith Firth from the Russell papers at MTCL)
Are loafers the same thing as moccasins?
Loafers are similar to moccasins, and the words are mostly used interchangeably, even though they are not the same type of shoe.
Modern day loafers first appeared first in Norway and were invented by a Norwegian fisherman. Nils Gregoriusson Tveranger presented his first design of these popular slip-on shoes in 1908. They were mass produced by a company named G.H. Baas in 1936. Loafers went by the name Bas Weejun. And no, that name didn’t come from Native Americans. Weejun stands for “Norwegian”.
Loafers and moccasins both have not lost their shape throughout years and are still a top choice classy pick! Luxury, style and comfort mix beautifully in these simple slip-ons. Whether casual or formal - you almost can’t go wrong with picking loafers or moccasins with your outfit!
Summary: History Of Moccasins
Times are changing, but moccasins will always stay the same. History’s already proved this. While the way of making them and materials used can change, the shape and design hasn’t changed. And if you go for 100% sheepskin or other animal leather made moccasins, you are wearing a piece of history!
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