Alaska life

Meeting Shirt – A Clothing Staple for Rural Alaska

Many roads in rural Alaska are sand or gravel, like this one in Huslia. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Many roads in rural Alaska are sand or gravel, like this one in Huslia. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Michelle Moses of Alatna is wearing a nice 'meeting' shirt, and dresses it up a bit with a suit jacket. She was attending a conference in Anchorage recently. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Michelle Moses of Alatna is wearing a nice ‘meeting’ shirt, and dresses it up a bit with a suit jacket. She was attending a conference in Anchorage recently. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Rural Alaskan ladies often have what they call a ‘meeting’ shirt. They might have one or two or sometimes several. They usually only use it in the city. A meeting shirt is usually a nice blouse that you could in a business meeting, training or conference. Men might wear a nice dress shirt. They will pack up their shirt to wear when they have meetings or other events to attend outside of the village.

In rural Alaska, people dress for the weather conditions and activities they mostly do outside, like fishing, berry picking and hunting. They dress to be ready to face the elements. Overall, the dress code is casual.

People really look at you if you are too ‘dressed’ up. Years ago, I wore a dress to the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Convention. That was even too dressy for my uncle who teased me and said, “You are the only one wearing a dress.” We laughed, and since then I remembered not to dress up too ‘nice’.

I’m not saying that people in rural Alaska do not dress nice or don’t have occasions to dress nice. They do indeed for school events, like proms or picture days. My dad, Al Yatlin, Sr., says, “Fancy clothes are not practical to wear for working. You can’t be cutting wood in your suit of clothes.” Suit-O-clothes is a saying older villagers had for fancy clothes like suits, ties, slacks, ties and white dress shirts.

Minnie Gray made a summer parka for Ermelina Gonzalez. Summer parkas can be worn for many occasions in rural and urban Alaska. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Minnie Gray made a summer parka for Ermelina Gonzalez. Summer parkas can be worn for many occasions in rural and urban Alaska. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Recently, my auntie came to Anchorage and said she wanted to buy some new meeting shirts. She said, “People see me in the same shirts every time I come to town. I wonder what they think.” We both laughed about it. Needless to say, she has a few more meeting shirts to add to her collection.

Speaking of shirts, wearing a summer parka in rural and urban Alaska is always in style. Commonly called a cuspuk or kuspuk, the summer parka are made out of calico or other colorful fabrics. Many sewers sell them at events. Koyukon Athabascan people call the summer parka a bets’egh hoolaanee. Inupiaq call it an atikłuk. Summer parkas are usually hooded with big pockets. They are used for a variety of events and can be dressed down or up. Men also wear darker and solid colored summer parkas.

Read about a piece I did on the Athabascan Word of the Week: Summer Parka for the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer.

Rural Alaskans prepare to go to the city with their meeting shirts, but urban Alaskans also need to be prepared when they travel to the villages.

Tips for Traveling to Rural Alaska

  • Be sure to dress appropriately for weather conditions. Many villages do not have a building at the airport. You may have to walk to the village from the airport or ride on the back of an ATV or a four-wheeler. Dress in layers, and have more layers in colder weather. Inclement weather is common.
  • Wear comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy or wet. High heels are not really practical because most roads are sand or gravel.
  • Casual dress code is the norm. For example, jeans are okay.

I think sports, casual and hunting clothing stores probably have excellent sales in rural Alaska because those are the types of clothing that are most practical. I used to love catalog shopping for those types of clothing when I lived in rural Alaska. The dress code in rural Alaska is more casual because life is different. A lot of people spend time outside. Practical clothes rule in rural Alaska.

My daughter, Janessa, and I got a ride on the back of a truck from the airport into town. The airport is about one-two miles from the village. ATVs, snow machines and trucks are the main modes of transportation in rural Alaska. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
My daughter, Janessa, and I got a ride on the back of a truck from the airport into town. The airport is about one-two miles from the village. ATVs, snow machines and trucks are the main modes of transportation in rural Alaska. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

10 thoughts on “Meeting Shirt – A Clothing Staple for Rural Alaska”

  1. A most interesting entry! I think the ‘functionality over form’ aspect of Alaska clothing is a plus and something I truly appreciate. I ‘did my time’ with the shirt and tie routine in the lower 48 corporate world; now it’s good to be able to dress for the weather and the activity. ‘Suit-o-Clothes’ was something I heard from my West Virginian relatives as well; they often teased me about being a ‘city slicker’. Thanks for many insights into native Alaskan life!

  2. Thank you for an interesting article, and a glimpse inside village life. But I two have a sort of ‘meeting shirt’ because for the past two winters I have gone to spend Christmas with my son and grandchildren and needed something ‘special’ to ware. I now keep two shirts, one pair of pants and a light coat covered in plastic in the corner of my cabin, and only ware them during my Christmas visit.

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