Chief’s-style blankets have two broad zones of black and white bands, separated by narrower blue, black and sometimes red bands. Several design phases have been identified. The first phase began around 1800 and has simple groups of broad bands. The second phase, with small rectangles appearing across the three widest bands, developed by 1850. In the third phase, introduced in the 1860s, triangles and diamonds appear on top of the background bands. A fourth phase with even more prominent foreground elements evolved after the 1870s.
The use of “chief” by scholars and collectors to describe this blanket style indicates the high quality of these blankets and associates them with the North American Plains Indians who avidly acquired them through trade. Unlike the more egalitarian Navajo tribe governed by localized headmen, Plains Indian tribes had centralized leadership with chiefs. This style name may have derived from the idea that chiefs wore them. Navajos call this blanket style hanoolchaadi, which refers to carding, the process of preparing wool before spinning.