7 African traditional outfits that have gone beyond African borders
African traditional outfits have always been elegant, colorful pieces of art. From the way they are crafted to how they are styled and worn, African clothes have never failed to make a statement.
Through the ages, some of these outfits have evolved and shifted from their original state into a blend of the old generation and the new, still preserving their uniqueness.
They can easily be identified and categorized based on the cloth patterns and styles of their countries of origin. This goes to show that although African traditional clothes show off the splendor of the continent, they also show off the uniqueness of specific tribes and countries.
With the emergence and influence of the Europeans in Africa, African traditional clothing almost faded out of existence and was seen as archaic and old-fashioned. Today, however, they have regained their relevance.
Aside from special occasions and ceremonious events, African traditional clothing can also be taken to work or worn in corporate environments.
Tapping into some colorful African vibes, here are 10 African traditional outfits and their origins.
The dashiki is one of the most adapted African clothing across the globe; however, it is mostly found among West Africans and some parts of East Africa.
The Dashiki is a loose-fitting, pullover shirt usually sewn from colorful African-inspired cotton prints or solid color fabrics.
The cloth can be traced to Yoruba, Nigeria, and its name originates from the Yoruba word, danshiki, which means a short-sleeved work shirt typically worn by men in West Africa.
The well-known pattern of the dashiki, called the Angelina print, was created by a Vlisco textile designer –Toon van de Manakker in 1962. He was also impacted by the silk embroidered tunics worn by Christian noblewomen in the mid-1800s in Ethiopia.
The cloth goes by many names, including Angelina, Miriam Makeba, and Kintenge.
Kente is a colorful Ghanaian textile made of hand-woven cloth. It is worn toga-style, wrapped around the body, or in recent times, sewn into beautiful fashion; and is recognized as the national cloth of Ghana.
The kente cloth traces its roots to the Ashanti and Ewe ethnic groups from Ghana, though is it mostly recognized as an Akan cloth from Bonwire in Kumasi. A very luxurious and expensive material, Kente is worn for very important occasions and celebrations.
History records that kente weaving was copied from the way the spider spins its web. Kente weaving began in the 12th Century and is still prevalent to this day.
The weaving process can take from four months to a year to be completed, and was primarily made for only kings and queens. However, it is now available for anyone who can afford it, with cheaper prints made available in the same patterns.
Agbada is a long, loose-fitting, wide-sleeved robe or gown, which is worn over the head and usually designed with intricate embroidery.
It is a four-piece male attire found among the Yoruba of Nigeria and the Republic of Benin. It is made up of a large free-flowing outer robe (awosoke), an under-vest (awotele), a pair of long trousers (sokoto), and a hat (fila).
It originated from the Babban-Riga of the Hausa people in Northern Nigeria and draws inspiration from the style of the Tuaregs, Kanuri, Toubou, Songhai, Hausa, and other trans-Saharan traders who wore robes primarily to protect themselves from the harsh temperature of the sun during the day and the snow-like temperature at night, while traveling across the Sahara Desert.
However, in recent times, Agbada is worn for very important occasions by both men and women.
4. Habesha Kemis
This is a hand-woven ankle-length dress usually worn by Ethiopian and Eritrean women at formal events. It is accompanied by a light shawl called the netela, which matches the pattern of the dress.
It is made of cotton, and comes in white, grey, or beige shades, and also features Tibeb patterns-created by weaving multicolored threads along the waistband, cuffs, or hems of the kemis. The weaving often takes about two to three weeks to make enough material (shemma) for the dress.
It originated from a group in Ethiopia called the Habesha, who inhabit the Horn of Africa in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Today, the dress can be sewn in different styles and lengths.
The kaftan is a pullover men’s robe with long bell sleeves. The most popular is the Senegalese kaftan, which is usually worn as formal wear in all West African countries.
It is a garment worn with matching drawstring pants (tubay) and a kufi cap. It is made of cotton brocade, lace, or synthetic fabrics.
The clothing is a variant of the robe or tunic, which is common among a lot of cultures around the world.
In Africa, the kaftan can be worn by both men and women.
Isidwaba is a traditional Zulu leather skirt worn by engaged and married women – it is also worn at a woman’s traditional wedding ceremony (umemulo). It is made from the hides of a cow, goat, or sheep, and is given by the woman’s father as a wedding gift.
The leather is cut, and plat, or sometimes knit after being polished; and sometimes embellished with beads.
The cloth has been around since the 19th century. Although the skirt has been modernized, it is still made from animal hide.
7. Aso Oke
Aso Oke is the hand-woven cloth of the Yoruba in Nigeria. It is a colorful, hand-loomed cotton material used to make garments for both men and women, including Agbada, Buba (Yoruba Blouse), Iro (wrap skirt), Gele (head scarf), and Iborun or ipele (shawl or shoulder sash), and many more.
The cloth originated from Southwest Nigeria in the 15th century. After the cotton is separated from the wool with a Spindler, it is dyed into the desired color and woven into the famous cloth.
The Ase-Oke can be seen at weddings, redesigned into different patterns and styles. It is worn by the bride and groom, as well as the members of their family.