Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum
Dickeys and Skinny-whoppers: Inuit and European Clothing in Labrador
April 1, 2000 - July 23, 2000
Arctic Museum main galleries
Inuit and Europeans have been interacting in Labrador for centuries. Europeans began seasonal whaling, fishing and trading with Inuit along the coast in the sixteenth century. By the late eighteenth century the westerners had established permanent settlements in Labrador. Inuit groups acquired European goods and used them as adornments. Europeans were just as quick to adopt some aspects of Inuit clothing, better suited than their own for the rigors of the Labrador climate. Photographs taken over the last century illustrate how each group modified its mode of dress over time. 

This exhibit was prepared by The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, with the generous support of the Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc.

Pictured above: Donald B. MacMillan, Hopedale, 1911-12. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Family Bringing in Wood</b> </p>    By the time photographers began recording life in Labrador, at the end of the nineteenth century, many Inuit were wearing white cloth parkas with contrasting trim, usually red. Called kooletahs or dickeys (from the Inuit word atigik, meaning an inner parka),  they were made of either cotton or wool cloth.  <br> <br>  Keystone Company, Labrador, ca. 1900. Museum Purchase.
<p><b>Woman Winding Nets</b> </p>    In the late nineteenth century, Inuit women still used a traditional design for their parkas. They made the hoods wide, to accommodate a child carried on their back, and fashioned U-shaped tails along the front and back hems. Moravian missionaries encouraged female converts to wear long skirts rather than skin pants.   <br> <br>  Keystone Company, Labrador, ca. 1900. Museum Purchase.

<p><b>Moravian Missionaries</b> </p>    Here a Moravian missionary family wearing typically European clothing poses for a visiting photographer. Although in some circumstances, such as traveling in winter, missionaries adopted articles of Inuit clothing, they clearly still took great pride in maintaining the customs of their homeland.  <br> <br>  Rockland Camera Club, Labrador, 1891. Courtesy of the Farnsworth Museum.
<p><b>Settler Families</b> </p>    Men from the British Isles and Europe began settling on the Labrador coast in the eighteenth century. They married Inuit women, and together founded a culture distinct from either of their home societies. Settler families wore traditional Inuit clothing such as sealskin boots with their long dresses, aprons and cloth pants.  <br> <br>  Rockland Camera Club, Labrador, 1891. Courtesy of the Farnsworth Museum.

<p><b>Family at Hopedale</b> </p>    Influenced by missionaries and traders, Inuit families increasingly adopted more elements of European clothing into their wardrobes. Members of this family, photographed at Hopedale where the Moravians established a mission in 1782, are wearing sealskin boots and white cloth parkas. The clothing was probably made by the woman in the photograph. The shawls, headscarves and caps were most likely purchased.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Hopedale, 1911-12. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Man in Kooletah</b> </p>    Inuit continued to wear fur clothing when it was appropriate. Hunting or traveling in the winter would have been impossible without warm fur parkas, boots and mittens. Missionaries too, wore such clothing when they traveled between communities in the winter.   <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Hopedale, 1911-12. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Group at Mugford</b> </p>    Some families went even farther in adopting European dress, at least on special occasions. For this clearly posed portrait, men and women alike have donned European style clothing, although many of them are wearing sealskin boots.   <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Mugford, 1911-12. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Sir Samuel and Eliza Broomfield</b> </p>    Samuel, a relatively well-to-do settler, dressed in English-style clothing, including a watch and chain, given to him when he was knighted in 1912. Settler women often treated sealskin with conifer bark to tan and preserve it. Boots made from such skin had a reddish color.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Jack Lane’s Bay, 1922. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Newfoundland Fisherman along the Labrador Coast</b> </p>    Fishermen often bought sealskin boots, which they called skinny-whoppers, from Inuit or Settler women in Labrador. Such boots would be waterproof as well as being lighter and more comfortable than rubber boots. For use on the ice in winter, fishermen would spike the soles with nails.   <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Labrador, ca. 1930. Gift of Miriam Look MacMillan.
<p><b>Tom Gear</b> </p>    Tom Gear, a settler, wears overalls and a knitted sweater or guernsey. The sweater was probably store-bought. Labrador resident Ellen Voisey recalled that it was impossible to buy wool in Nain in the 1920s. To make stockings, women would unravel worn sweaters and re-knit the yarn.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Anaktalak Bay, 1929. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Boy with Fish</b> </p>    Ellen Voisey also recalled making a sillipak, or parka, for her brother when he was small, 'and a pair of overalls and did them with linseed oil. He had a pair of rubbers, that was something wonderful, a pair of rubbers.' Rubber boots were still a novelty in the 1920s.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Nain, 1937. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Three Inuit Couples in Nain</b> </p>    By the late 1920s and 1930s, Inuit and immigrant clothing styles were becoming more and more similar. These three Inuit couples were photographed on a special occasion, perhaps a wedding. The white-soled boots worn by the men were reserved for such occasions. The woman on the left also seems to be wearing her 'best' clothes, including a satin skirt and store-bought shoes.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Nain, ca. 1930. Gift of Miriam Look MacMillan.

<p><b>Hunters at Anaktalak Bay</b> </p>    Western-style jackets might be appropriate for special events in town, but hunters continued to wear more traditional clothing out on the land. Hunters know that survival out on the land depends on warm, waterproof clothing. Even today, traditional clothing is considered superior to store-bought in Labrador’s unpredictable weather.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Anaktalak Bay, 1927-28. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Donald B. MacMillan</b> </p>    Visiting researchers also adopted Labrador-style clothing. Arctic explorer and researcher Donald B. MacMillan was well aware of the benefits of dressing in clothing designed for local conditions. He and his colleagues typically hired local women to make appropriate clothing for them.   <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Anaktalak Bay, February 10, 1928. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Adam and Kitora Green, with their daughter Elizabeth</b> </p>    By 1939, when this photograph was taken, women rarely wore parkas with tails, though they were still familiar with such older styles. Here, Elizabeth and Kitora Green both hold dolls dressed in old-fashioned parkas, although Kitora herself wears a dickey with a straight hem.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Nain, 1939. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Bill and Fanny Peacock</b> </p>    Missionaries in Nain, the Peacocks adopted the white dickeys that were at the time the most common outerwear in Labrador. Like the nineteenth century missionaries before them, they maintained a predominantly European approach to dress.   <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Nain, 1937. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.