Yes, He's Handsome -- But He's Not Your Model. 25 Photos of Natives in European Dress

Looking at these heartbreaking photos of indigenous people in European clothes, many Native Americans see the genocide of their ancestors.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

A story to remember: In 2014, the online holiday catalogue for Ralph Lauren's RRL line of menswear featured vintage photos of American Indians wearing European-style clothing—jackets, vests, neckties, hats with brims. The pictures were real, and vividly documented the painful transition and assimilation of a brutalized people.

The company has taken the catalogue off its website saying in a statement, "We recognize that some of the images depicted in the RRL look book may have caused offense and we have removed them from our website."

We can't pretend to know what the people in pictures taken 130 years ago were thinking. We don't know whether they "wanted" to wear these clothes or were "forced"—both are relative terms anyway. These are the survivors of a decimated population who are wearing the oppressor's clothing—was it their choice to wear these clothes? What did they know of "choice" at all, given what many of them had witnessed and endured?

[text_ad]

How you look at these photos has something to do with who you are. Many in fashion would see the juxtaposition, the clash of styles, the diverse threads entwining in the crazy, mixed-up cultural and aesthetic tapestry of America. Yadda yadda yadda. 

Many Natives looking at these photos see the genocide of their ancestors.

Dr. Adrienne Keene writes that the people in the photos "didn’t fight and survive so they would end up on the pages of a Ralph Lauren catalog."

"They didn’t want to wear itchy woolen vests and tight narrow shoes made for white [people]," Ruth Hopkins writes. "They had no choice. The fashion Ralph Lauren glorifies arose from oppression."

They are important images, of beautiful people—but they don't belong in a catalog for $300 blue jeans and $1000 jackets.

These photos were collected by Paul Ratner, director of Moses on the Mesa, and posted to his film's Facebook page. Ratner's acclaimed movie tells the story of Solomon Bebo, a German Jewish immigrant who became governor of Acoma Pueblo—to read an interview, see our earlier post "25 Portraits of American Indians You Might Not Have Seen (No Curtis!)"

Red Crow, Head Chief of the Kainai (Blackfoot).

Red Crow, Head Chief of the Kainai (Blackfoot).

A young Oglala Lakota man. Photo from 1890-1891.

A young Oglala Lakota man. Photo from 1890-1891.

Nawat (Left Hand) in Partial Native Dress Holding Pipe, 1924

Nawat (Left Hand) in Partial Native Dress Holding Pipe, 1924

Little Robe. Cheyenne. 1871.

Little Robe. Cheyenne. 1871.

Iron Nation (Ma-Za-O-Ya-Ti). Brule Sioux. 1867.

Iron Nation (Ma-Za-O-Ya-Ti). Brule Sioux. 1867.

Assadawa or Esadewar. A Wichita man. 1872.

Assadawa or Esadewar. A Wichita man. 1872.

Wolf Chief & Harry Eaton. Hidatsa. Dakota Territory. 1880s.

Wolf Chief & Harry Eaton. Hidatsa. Dakota Territory. 1880s.

Mi-waka-yuha aka George Sword. Oglala Lakota. 1875.

Mi-waka-yuha aka George Sword. Oglala Lakota. 1875.

Geronimo and his nieces, early 1900s.

Geronimo and his nieces, early 1900s.

[text_ad]

Buffalo Bull's Ghost. Yanktonai. 1894.

Buffalo Bull's Ghost. Yanktonai. 1894.

Bird Chief. 1867. Arapaho.

Bird Chief. 1867. Arapaho.

A Sioux man. South Dakota. ca. 1895-1899.

A Sioux man. South Dakota. ca. 1895-1899.

Medicine Man. Cheyenne. 1877.

Medicine Man. Cheyenne. 1877.

Oglala Chiefs American Horse (left) and Red Cloud (right). Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D. 1891.

Oglala Chiefs American Horse (left) and Red Cloud (right). Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D. 1891.

A Cree man. ca. 1900. Alberta, Canada.

A Cree man. ca. 1900. Alberta, Canada.

George Flying By, his wife, Hail Heart, and son, First To Kill. Hunkpapa Lakota. 1880s.

George Flying By, his wife, Hail Heart, and son, First To Kill. Hunkpapa Lakota. 1880s.

[text_ad]

James Garfield Velarde ("Jicarilla cowboy"), 1905.

James Garfield Velarde ("Jicarilla cowboy"), 1905.

Oiti, second Chief, Shoshone. 1884-1885.

Oiti, second Chief, Shoshone. 1884-1885.

"Something Beginning To Sail Off", also identified as Tibishko-Biness ("Like A Bird"). Chippewa man. 1877.

"Something Beginning To Sail Off", also identified as Tibishko-Biness ("Like A Bird"). Chippewa man. 1877.

Cheyenne Men, 1880s.

Cheyenne Men, 1880s. American Horse is 3rd from left, James Atwood is 4th from left. Jules Seminole is standing on far left.

Comanche Chief Quanah Parker and his wife, Tonasa. 1892.

Comanche Chief Quanah Parker and his wife, Tonasa. 1892.

A Sioux man smoking a cigarette. 1908.

A Sioux man smoking a cigarette. 1908.

Running Face aka E-Sta-Poo-Sta, Son of Red Cow. A Mandan man. 1874.

Running Face aka E-Sta-Poo-Sta, Son of Red Cow. A Mandan man. 1874.

Seven Sioux warriors, 1891.

Seven Sioux warriors, 1891.

Young Man from Rocky Boy Indian Reservation. Montana. Undated.

Young Man from Rocky Boy Indian Reservation. Montana. Undated.

This story was originally published on December 19, 2014.