Photograph of shirt made by Native Arts Trading
In Lakota Tradition
Akicita ("Warrior") societies existed to train warriors, hunters, and to police the community. There were many smaller Akicita societies, including the Kit-Fox, Strong Heart, Elk, and so on. Leaders in the Naca societies, per Naca Ominicia, were the tribal elders and leaders, who would elect seven to ten men, depending on the division, each referred to as Wicasa Itancan ("chief man"). Each Wicasa Itancan interpreted and enforced the decisions of the Naca.
The Wicasa Itancan would elect two to four Shirt Wearers who were the voice of the society. They settled quarrels among families and also foreign nations. Shirt Wearers were often young men from families with hereditary claims of leadership. However, men with obscure parents who displayed outstanding leaderships skills and had earned the respect of the community might also be elected. Crazy Horse is an example of a common-born "Shirt Wearer".
A Wakincuza ("Pipe Holder") ranked below the "Shirt Wearers". The Pipe Holders regulated peace ceremonies, selected camp locations, and supervised the Akicita societies during buffalo hunts.
The War Shirt
The original shirt wearers earned the right to wear War Shirts through great acts of bravery and deeds that were incorporated into the designs. Over a warriors lifetime, he would probably have owned more than one shirt. Some War Shirts were also thought to possess intrinsic spiritual powers which were transferred to the wearer. Buffalo hide was too thick to use, so the maker used Elk or deer skins. However, the ideal hides came from mountain sheep that roamed the Rocky Mountains to the Missouri River and beyond. After the shirt was made, it could be decorated in many ways. Four strips of quill work or bead work could be attached extending over the shoulders and hanging midway down the back, the other two strips attached to the sleeves next to the shoulder strips. Neck tabs or facings on back and front of the shirt were also seen on Plains War Shirts. Some tribes used square-shapes while others used pointed tabs or other shapes. Rosettes are often found on the early shirts in the middle of the chest and back. Hair from humans or horses often extended from the quilled arm strips and down the outside of the shoulder strips. Shirts with hair have been called scalp shirts, but they were only made with hair locks. Sometimes the same areas were decorated with fringe providing the flowing motion and a luxurious richness to the shirt. A shirt could also be filled with vivid paintwork or pictographic artwork