Before Native American Fashion Designer Nan Blassingame started talking to a fashion design class at the ACC Highland campus, her dresses spoke for her.  Her dresses were displayed at the front, with incredible color, intricate detail, and a radiance that filled the room and brought an anticipation to her discussion.

Then, Blassingame introduced herself, first detailing the evolution of her twenty-year career in fashion and then later her role in orchestrating the Austin Powwow.

How It All Began

Nan recounted how she dreamed of making dresses from a young age.  She was always enamored with a style of dress called the jingle dress, and begged her mother to teach her to make them.  The jingle dress is a style of dress that is used during Powwows and is created with hundreds of small metal cones that create the ‘jingle’ sound as dancers move.

One day, her mother agreed to teach her the jingle dress ‘one time and one time only.’  Her dream became a reality as she created beautiful jingle dresses for friends and family.

One fateful day Blassingame decided to post one of her dresses on Facebook, to see if there were any potential buyers.  It sold instantly.  Since then her life has been transformed.  She has a company, “Native American Notions”, and makes dozens of dresses each year.

Breaking into the Fashion Scene 

In 2018 a friend let her know about the “Austin Intercultural Fashion Show.”  Blassingame entered and was selected, leading to her fashion show debut and an interview in Art Today London Magazine.  As it turns out, her friend had only meant she should attend, not participate!  Yet, that fashion show led to more opportunities, including New York Fashion Week and her work on display at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

Nan’s favorite creation is still the jingle dress, but she designs and creates other styles of dresses and clothing as well.  Each traditional style of dress comes with a history and is an integral part of a Powwow –  the dresses form dance competition ‘categories’ at a Powwow.   Dance categories can include the fancy shawl, the buckskin, the grass dance (for men), and others.

The jingle dress, according to Blassingame:

“[The jingle dress] Came out in 1920.  This man from the Ojibwe tribe kept having this dream –  this vision of this dress.  So, he told his wife about his dream and vision that he was having and they made four of them, in the four directions.  We do a lot of the things in the four directions.  So they made four of these dresses.  There was this little girl that was very ill. She was on her death bed…  Well, they came and they presented the dresses at her gathering and they were dancing around the circle and the little girl got up and began to dance with them.  So, they consider it a medicine dress, a healing dress.”

The Creation of the Jingle Dress

The jingle dress is created with small metal cones that are intricately arranged creating a cascade alongside the bottom part of the dress.  Blassingame points out, “Everyone thinks they are little bells.  They are not little bells, you have to hang them close enough together so that they clank together.  So a lot of math goes into one of these dresses.”


Native American fashion is firmly rooted in indigenous tribal culture. The dresses Blassingame makes are primarily for use in Powwows and are designed with reference to traditions, spirituality, and history.   Many of her dresses reference her own tribe’s culture, the Cheyenne and Arapaho. Blassingame explains:

“Everything has meaning.  Someone might even know I am Cheyenne just from looking at my beadwork.  Other tribes can identify the designs, ‘She’s Cheyenne’, just by wearing that.  One of the colors we are known for is Cheyenne pink.”

Native American Materials

Part of Nan’s presentation included showcasing the variety of materials used in Native fashion.  She brought porcupine quills to illustrate the difficulty in using this material in crafting jewelry.  Traditionally, jewelry makers soaked each quill in their mouth to soften it before use.  Now, designers soak each quill in water, a painstaking and time-consuming process.

Another key material used in Native design is beads.  Blassingame showcased a wide variety of beads, some so small it takes a trained eye to make use of them in beadwork.


Historically, Native garments made use of different parts of animals such as elk, deer, and buffalo.  Today, many garments use replicas to mimic these materials.  The metal cones that are used for jingle dresses were originally made from commodity cans on reservations.  Today, they are manufactured by a select few companies.

Each material in Native fashion is connected to a history, place, community, and culture.

More Than Fashion: Inspiring the Native American Community

Blassingame hopes her fashion can be an inspiration to those in the Native American community, but also serve as a reminder that Native people are still here and involved in pushing fashion forward.  She feels passionately about spreading her love and pride for Native fashion to the next generation of Native Americans.  Before moving to Texas Nan worked with Native youth in her hometown of Hammon, Oklahoma.  Blassingame explained:

“That is why I am so passionate about teaching, so it is passed down from generation to generation.  They (Native youth) can do it too, even if you are from a small town you can do it.  If no one believes in you as long as you believe in yourself you are going to do good.”

It is with this passion and pride that Nan teaches, designs, and inspires not only her community but those around her.

The Future for Nan

Nan plans to continue making her designs and supporting the Powwow. One of her eventual goals is to continue teaching and inspiring Native youth in Central Texas and back home on the reservation in Oklahoma.  According to Nan:

“I taught a ribbon skirt class back home, a few years ago, in four days we made forty ribbon skirts with the community. To me, it was the smiles on their faces, of accomplishment, like ‘I made this.’ Just by looking at their faces, I’m accomplished. If they were excited that they made it. Some were like ‘I’m going to go buy a sewing machine.’ Just the inspiration they get from that.”

As for Nan’s future,  the sky’s the limit with her fashion career, so look for her designs on runways in the U.S. and abroad!

Native American Heritage Celebration at ACC

Nan Blassingame’s presentation was made possible through a collaboration between the ACC Fashion Design Department and the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division (TLED). Special thanks to Victoria Taylor, Dept Chair, ACC Fashion Design.

To learn more about Blassingame, follow her on instagram @n_a_notions.

The presentation was part of the ACC Cultural Mosaic Project:  Native American Heritage Celebration. To learn more visit: