On eagle feathers vs. pigeon feathers, headdresses vs. war bonnets, and when decorative becomes dirty

I remember once, a long time ago, I found a pigeon feather on the ground. I picked it up then ran my fingers up and down its length. The sensation is odd, how each individual barb seems to have its place and how you can mess them all up but then smooth it all out perfectly again into a seemingly solid thing. I stuck the feather into my ponytail and thought of myself as Indian princess. Not for long though. My mother swooped down on that feather and plucked it out of my hair. “Dirty!”

How does dirty become decorative, or visa versa? Time, place, era, culture?

The 1920’s feathered flapper headbands were made with ostrich and peacock feathers. Those feathers were usually from farms that raised the birds solely for their feathers.

My grandmother would never leave the house without putting makeup on. She was a child of the 20s and 30s. I’m sure her grandmother would have taken one look at her bright lipstick and rouge and said, “Dirty.”

Only a few of the plains tribes of American Indians wore War Bonnets, what we usually call feathered headdresses. Only men wore them and only for ceremonial purposes. Both men and women of the northeastern woodland tribes would stick single feathers, usually hawk or turkey, into their beaded headbands. Because they were pretty, and found lying on the ground like my pigeon feather.

In contrast, every individual eagle feather in a war bonnet had meaning. Each feather was given by the tribe to a man when he acted with honor or courage. Eagle tail feathers are very difficult to obtain. There are actual laws protecting them now.

The pictures showing models wearing fake Indian headdresses on costume websites are dirty. But not like what you are thinking.  Dirty in the way my mother saw that pigeon feather in my hair.  As something that would make me sick.