Parkas were invented by the Inuit. People living in the Arctic region wear long parkas that reach down to their knees. The parka or anorak is warm protection for the blizzards. Most of the clothing is bought from a store or ordered from a catalogue or the internet, but some Inuit wear traditional clothes (boots, pants, parkas, mittens) made of animal skins when they go out on the land.


parkas made of sealskin (left) and caribou (right)
traditional parkas, photo by Ansgar Walk, wikipedia, creative commons license
image credit - Ansgar Walk , Wikipedia, license - Creative Commons

Clothing from animals
The Inuit wore clothing made of caribou hides, sealskin and the fur from other animals (polar bear, fox, wolf). Sealskin came from harp, ringed or bearded seals. Sealskin was strong and almost waterproof and was ideal for boots, mittens and lighter parkas. Parkas made of sealskin were not warm enough to be worn in the winter.

sealskin parka and pants for warm, wet weather
Eastern Arctic Inuit: Nunatsiarmiut; 
M5835.1-2  McCord Museum
Inuit Clothing, McCord Museum; Creative Commons License

The Inuit depended on parkas, pants, mittens and boots made of caribou skin for winter survival. Clothing made of caribou skin was very warm because caribou hair is hollow and acts as an insulator. Dressing in layers was necessary to stay warm. Two parkas were worn, one with the fur against the skin and the second parka with the fur on the outside. Wolf or wolverine fur was used as a trim for the hood and protected the face from frost. Caribou skin pants and socks were also worn with the fur to the inside. (photo - sealskin pants and mittens) The white fur of the caribou's belly was used for trim. Women's parkas (amauti) had large hoods that could hold a child. Small children wore jumpsuits. Sometimes the hood was decorated with caribou ears.

child in a jumpsuit (one piece outfit)
Inuit child, image by George Lessard,
image credit - George Lessard;; Creative Commons License

Making the clothing
Women made the clothing for their family. Girls learned by watching their mothers prepare the skins. It was a lot of work -- scraping, softening and working the skins, then cutting and stitching. The tools they used were made from horns, antlers, bones and wood. Caribou sinew was used as thread. Sinew came from tendons in the caribou's leg or back. The sewing was done with needles made of ivory or bone.

Footwear (kamiks) made of animal skins :
The Inuit wore two to five layers of footwear depending on what they were planning to do and what the weather and ground was like. The layers included an inner slipper, stocking or liner, boot, and over slipper. (photo) Caribou skin footwear was light and very warm. Seal skin boots were also light and waterproof. Hunters could move quickly and silenty across the snow to sneak up on prey. Kamiks are still popular today. Inuit women sew kamiks for their families or for sale to tourists.

kamiks (or mukluks) were invented by the Inuit.
kamik or mukluks
image credit - Ansgar Walk ; Wikipedia; license - Creative Commons


Inuit grandmother and grandchild
Inuit grandmother and grandchild, Nunavut, Ansgar Walk, creative commons license, wikipedia
image credit - Ansgar Walk; Wikipedia; license - Creative Commons

When Inuit moved into villages in the 1950s they wore store-bought clothes. Clothing made of skins was too warm to wear in heated buildings.

Today Inuit get their clothing from Co-op stores, Northern stores, catalogues and online shopping. They buy jeans, baseball caps, windbreakers and sportswear. Footwear is the same as ours - winter boots, rubbers, sandals, runners, etc.

traditional amautik and footwear
amauti, image by George Lessard,
image credit - George Lessard ;; Creative Commons License

Some Inuit women still make parkas, pants, hats, mittens and footwear from animal skins. When people go out on the land they need caribou skin clothing in case the weather turns cold. In some communities, older women get together for a sewing circle and make clothes for their families or as a source of income. Sewing machines are used to make parkas and clothing from store-bought fabrics. Fabric parkas with embroidered decorations (decorative trim) are sold to tourists and people living in northern communities.

printed fabric parkas (for girls and women)
Woman's and girl's Mother Hubbards made by Margarite Tangik Egotak, Holman, Northwest Territories, 1987
credit: Canadian Museum of Civilization


Web Pages for Students

credits -
information from Inuit Art Alive , CAMIK (Canadian Arctic Multimedia Information Kit)
Gates of the Arctic Caribou Skin Clothing | Inuit Clothing Canadian Museum of Civilization
information about kamiks - from Kamiks of the Inuit, Virtual Museum of Canada.

August 2009
updated August 2011

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