By definition, a mukluk is a high, soft boot worn in the North American arctic traditionally made from sealskin. A moccasin on the other hand is a slipper, specifically without a separate heel, consisting of a two pieces of material sewn together to create a shoe form.
Origins of Mukluks
Mukluks were first crafted by the Inuit and Yupik people of the Canadian and American north. There is evidence that mukluks may also have been worn by settlers in Siberia and Russia. Mukluks were created to combat the extreme dry cold that the Inuit people faced on a daily basis. The materials to create the boots typically consisted of seal or caribou skin for the basic shell of the boot, animal sinew as thread to sew the pieces together, and fur to create warmth. Mukluks were made in different shapes and sizes, but generally were made to fit just under the knee for maximum warmth and protection. Intricate beadwork was added as a creative element, an important homage to the Inuit culture. Often beadwork was seen as a cultural and spiritual significance within traditional tribes of the Canadian north.
Origins of Moccasins
According to Native American lore, a chief of The Great Plains used to suffer from very tender feet. One morning he awoke in his village to paths that had been created out of animal hide for him to comfortably walk on. Of course, the chief realized that he would only be able to walk on these paths made of soft leather and wouldn’t be able to stray from them. He demanded that the earth be covered in this leather, however the village medicine man knew that this demand was unrealistic. He offered the chief two objects that, to the chief, looked like bear’s fur-less feet. These leather shoes eventually evolved into the moccasins we know today.
In the most basic sense, moccasins were traditionally made with two pieces of animal hide, stitched together along the top of the foot with animal sinew. Fur was typically added around the top portion, and beadwork done on the top piece of material. This beadwork was used as way to distinguish tribes from one another.
The primary differences between mukluks and moccasins are:
• Mukluks were worn as extensive protection from the harsh elements. Reaching knee-high, the boots provided warmth and comfort during hunting excursions, fishing trips and gathering expeditions that often lasted for days. Today, mukluks are designed to be worn as outdoor boots in the winter (and sometimes in the summer!) and meant for trekking through deep snow.
• Moccasins, since they only covered the foot, were worn more casually and in warmer climates. Tribes that faced less extreme weather could wear moccasins around the camp without suffering from the cold. Today, moccasins are primarily worn as slippers inside the home and are typically traded for mukluks if going outside.
• Mukluks were, and still are, designed to protect the wearer from harsh elements. Added liners, thicker animal skin and more fur were trademarks of traditional moccasins.
• Moccasins were worn by those tribes that inhabited warmer climates and may not have survived on frozen tundra year round. Today, moccasins are worn as slippers and while they provide warmth in the home, they may not stand up to the outdoors for a significant period of time
• Mukluks were seen as required clothing for any outdoor activities. They were the primary footwear for the Inuit people, and still are today. Today, mukluks have been slightly updated to be worn in damp climates, in addition to dry areas. An added sole provides protection from moisture, and zippers and ties offer more accessible wear.
• Moccasins were traditionally worn casually and in warmer climates. Today, moccasins are a great choice for in-house slippers. The soft materials and warm fur provide comfort in the home, especially in the winter.
While moccasins and mukluks are made from the same materials, and retain the same significance, their uses and design differ.