Cross-Cultural Clothing

Captain John O. Spicer in Inuit Clothing

Original content by: Sally Motycka

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

This image of Captain John Orrin Spicer, of New London, was taken in a studio setting in New London, CT in the mid 1880's.  Spicer is dressed in typical Inuit clothing.  Customarily the Inuit fashioned their dress out of the only available resources: seal, walrus, and even polar bear.  In the winter, men would wear two layers - attigi, the inner layer, was stitched with the fur on the inside, and a second outer layer, qulittaq, with the fur on the outside.  The boots are known as Kamiit, and are made of seal skin.  They were the favored footwear for Spicer.  Even in retirement, Spicer was seen around his Connecticut town and on his farm wearing his favorite seal leather boots (and, according to his nephew, a large sombrero!).  He must have been a peculiar sight in New England.

Inuit women wore a parka called an amauti or tuilli, that had an enlarged hood and was expanded in back. This allowed a child that was being carried on the woman's back to be covered by the garment as well.  The oversized hood could be pulled over both mother and child for additional warmth.  The child, belly against the mother's back and knees bent, would ride comfortably, secured at the waist with a belt to prevent slipping too far down the back.  American whaling ships would often trade items with the Inuit and sewing accessories and beads were desired by the women allowing them to embellish their amauti, and perhaps display their status.  

Parkas were specifically made out of caribou skins.  To prepare the skins into soft leather would require the skins to be chewed. Inuit women would have traditionally sewn the leather into warm, waterproof clothing with bone needles and whale sinew for thread.  Eventually, with advances in technology and close ties to American whalemen, a sewing machine aboard a whale ship may have been used.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. Identify the climate and the natural resources of other regions around the world. How do you think the people who live there would use their available resources for clothing and shelter?
  2. What items might have been useful or desired for these native people to take in trade? How do you think they would use them and why?
  3. Who do you think these native people would be trading with and why?