Although 16th Century engraver, Theodore DeBry, depicted Florida native women as being scantily clad, draped only in a modest skirt of Spanish moss, it does not mean it was so. It has recently been come to light that most of his images were not based on tangible evidence, but purely conjecture. In Spanish society “naked” could mean not being fully dressed, or, dressed only in one’s underclothes. The thought of naked ladies in strange lands probably enticed a lot of young men to “discover” America for themselves.
Artist Hermann Trappman has playfully created these illustrations of women posing as if for a modern ladies wear catalogue.
The young woman on the right is wearing a woven top and breach clout. Her short-waisted top shows that she is not yet married.
The woman in the center holding the paddle is married so her top reaches her breechcloth so that everyone knows immediately her status. She’s also a working class woman. Her hairstyle is designed to keep the sun out of her eyes rather like Seminole women used to wear in South Florida. She is wearing rope sandals designed to get wet while walking along the bays and the beaches.
The woman nursing her child is obviously married. Besides her breechcloth, she wears an apron which covers her backside. She’s a member of the clan living in the great house. She wears a woven hat to keep the sun out of her eyes.
Florida Indians had access to some exceptional fibers for weaving, including sea island cotton. Weaving was practiced for over 8,000 years evidenced from the bog burials at Windover Pond. In 1898, archaeologist Frank Hamilton Cushing came across evidence of fabric with a twill weave imprinted on what remained on the back of a copper disc at a burial mound site in Pinellas County.
While the clothing styles depicted in the paintings above are conjecture, they are probably closer to the mark than bits of Spanish moss. Haven’t met a woman yet who would want to wear Spanish moss next to her skin.