Kuspuks: Traditional Alaskan Couture

Kuspuks: Traditional Alaskan Couture

This is my daughter Sophia performing her first Alaskan native dance in her kuspuk my mother-in-law Jean made.

A kuspuk is traditional Yupik native attire. It’s extremely comfortable and functional, and it’s worn by both women and men. Depending on the season, they may be made with cool cotton fabrics or lined with fur. Some come with skirts and others are more like parkas.

Sophia Heath dancing in her kuspuk

Kuspuks are worn while berry picking, cleaning game, hunting, dancing, etc. The more formal the occasion, the fancier the kuspuk.

Kuspuk Day at Work is becoming more and more popular in Alaska. The women in my school have a Kuspuk Day about twice a month. They look great and it forms a bond between old Alaskan traditions for all the women that wear them, both native and non-native alike.

Now they just need to convince the men in my school that it’s a manly thing to wear too!

Here are some links where you can see more pictures and buy patterns and kuspuks:

Images from AlaskaStock.com

Patterns at NorthernThreads.com

Kuspuks for sale at Etsy.com



Recognize the kuspuk wearer below?

From AccentAlaska.com: Governor Sarah Palin participates in a traditional Inupiat blanket toss. Alaska, Point Barrow. June 30, 2008.

From AccentAlaska.com: Gov. Sarah Palin participates in a traditional Inupiat blanket toss. Point Barrow, AK. June 30, 2008.

Also, you can search YouTube and find several videos of traditional dancing in kuspuks, but you have to see Alaskan legend, Mary Ann Sundown, also known as the Yup’ik Dance Diva, in the video below (she’s in turquoise). Mary Ann sadly passed away in 2011, but will always be remembered for her energy and passion for dancing, no matter the music genre. From ADN.com:

In private life, she was an industrious homemaker, adept at skinning a seal, stitching a kuspuk or ceremonial dance headpiece from fur, or whipping up a bowl of akutaq — then relaxing in front of the television set.
“She saw changes from a very traditional lifestyle to a world of technology, right down to her remote control,” said Jones. “She loved what she called her ‘lemote.’ “


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Sarah Palin in Kuspuk at Grocery Store

Kuspuks are good for grocery shopping too!

(Featured image inset of Mary Ann Sundown by ADN.com)


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  • Chuck,

    This is so beautiful, and shows a side of Sarah I never even knew. Does she do the actual dances? Or anyone else in your family? I would love to show the artistic side of Sarah to my wife. I think it would break down many walls. Please, please, if you have more of this post it.

    • chzn2bfree

      “Somewhere” I read that SP does not, yet, dance (please correct me Mr Heath if otherwise)….however, I’m waiting patiently to know whether she tried the hora while in Israel.

  • I love it! Another informative post from Chuck with added smiles. Mary Ann had some good rhythm 🙂 RIP.

  • Oh my Sophie is just precious! It’s no wonder Sarah had such a high approval rate! Seriously how many Gov’s would attempt this?!
    Love the fashionista of Alaska (I’m referring to your dads great fur hat!) 🙂

    • blueniner

      Sarah could start a designer line of Alaskanian Couture’.

      • She would have enough beautiful models for sure!

  • chzn2bfree

    Luv the spunk in Sarah !! So glad Sophia is learning young her Alaskan heritage.
    Oy! If we could all dance as Mary Ann in her Sundown years !!
    Mr. Heath…really….you would look quite impressive in a kuspuk. I can see both you and your dad on an Alaskan magazine sporting the tradition……think of the competition with the kilts! :-))
    Hope you’ll cover Alaskan music, and did/do they believe in “spirits”….if yes, would like a “brief” input on that as well (ok if direct me to a website).

    Blessings! and once again thank you for the chuck-les….

  • Lynda

    great post and I think you would look great in a kuspuk

  • Lynda

    What is the name of the pretty blue jacket she wears? … she has said that it is Native Alaskan

  • Ever since I became interested in Alaska (August 29, 2008), I’ve always wondered what those overshirts were called. They’re so beautiful! I haven’t done a lot sewing in a while, but if I had the time and money, I’d want to make a kuspuk for myself and maybe for my friends as well!

  • You’ll never see me dancing, though – unless I meet the man of my dreams and get married. I’ll occasionally dance the merengue (traditional dance from the Dominican Republic) but never publicly because I stink!

  • indemind

    AWESOME!!! thank you Chuck

  • BermudaBob

    Yet another post where I learn something very interesting!

  • daisy_mae

    Thanks so much for sharing the rich Alaskan traditions with us Chuck! Love the pics of Sarah and Sophia is so precious. Here is a pic of a Yupik mother and child, published in 1930. I love the babies’ boots! I’ve shared this on C4P before and it’s currently on my desktop: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Edward_S._Curtis_Collection_People_008.jpg

  • RomanBarbarian


    Now everything falls into place. Amazing Nature, amazing culture, amazing people, crazy sense of humor ;), amazing wildlife, hunting, fishing, human challenges… it’s time for an Alaskan President!!

  • Sweet post and that Sophia is a living doll!!!! Sarah is a true Alaskan…Look forward to your posts daily!!!