Arts & Culture

African Clothing

African clothing generally refers to traditional clothing worn by Africans.

Various tribes throughout the continent take pride in the folk costumes used for ceremonies and special occasions.

Dresses come in a variety of styles, and the type of cloth plays an essential role in making garments. Fabrics often reflect the status of society in general and individuals or groups within that community.

In some cases, traditional robes have been replaced or influenced by foreign cultures such as colonial influences and the popular Western dress code.

The evolution of clothing in Africa is very difficult to track due to the lack of written language and actual historical evidence. Many sources gather from a variety of sources, including traditional robes, word-of-mouth (oral history), theaters (masquerade), and arts and crafts that show the sculptural expression of dresses, inherited by members of the modern tribe. Has been done.

African clothing history

In most parts of the African continent, due to the warm and friendly climate, clothing was generally not needed for warmth and protection, and many tribes did not wear it at all. The man wore only a waist cloth or apron, and the woman wrapped her waist and chest, scaring the rest of her body and decorating it in ocher.

Barkcloth, fur, leather and leather were mainly used for these first garments.

The man wrapped the bark cloth around the belt and passed between the legs, and the woman hung the cloth on the belt to hide the front of the body.

Raffia was not only used to sew separate barkcloths, but also to grass skirts.


After the Stone Age man, he stripped the bark from the tree and tapped it with rocks until it was thin and malleable to make a barkcloth. Sew small pieces together with hide and raffia to make a large piece that covers your body.

Barkcloth wrapperUgandan woman, barkcloth wrapper, early 20th century, Mombasa

Sometimes it was decorated with patterns that create a tradition of decoration that exists in almost every African country.

Ornaments Of clothing It was born from making jewelry and headgear from shells, bones, ostrich eggshell pieces and feathers.

The earliest evidence of fiber production appeared in Igbo-Ukwu, which consisted of excavated pieces of unpatterned bast fiber cloth dating back to the 9th century. (Bast fiber is a plant fiber made from the inner bark of phloem). The discovery of the Terem Cave in Mali exposed the funeral halls of the 11th and 12th centuries, revealing pieces of indigo-dyed cotton and wool cloth.

Then, around the 15th century, trade took place in Africa, opening transportation routes between Europe, Africa and the east. Exotic items have arrived on the continent and locals have begun to crave to decorate their local fabrics. Beads, shells and buttons began to appear in garments as decorations or as part of the entire garment such as beaded aprons, capes, headbands and shoes.

Different weaving techniques have been developed in different areas, but some are more advanced than others. The fibers used were cotton, raffia, silk and wool. Textiles and decorated fabrics used in African garments have come to reflect tribal status, socio-economic status, culture, environment and climate.

Tribal clothes

Traditional and modern textiles and / or printed fabrics are wrapped around the body and covered to form the core of tribal garments. With beads, feathers, leather, gold and silver, shells, ostrich egg shells, ivory, buttons, fur, skin, bones, headdresses made from animal tails and hair, bags, belts, collars, girdles and capes. Body decoration, raffia, wood, grass, bells and pressed metal all contribute to the rich and decorated costumes used for tribal purposes.

Beaded skirt tanzania

Combined with headbands, necklaces, bracelets, wristlets, armbands, anklets, oiled fragrant skin, and wearing dressed hair, adult women and men are brilliant in the weight and volume of their dresses. Can be worn down.

Animal skin was often chosen in a symbolic sense, demonstrating tribal loyalty or personal totems.

Sometimes it needed to be kept intact to bring health and good luck to the wearer.

Clothing was worn to show personal status or to show special rituals or the passage of time as people move from one state to another.

Beaded apron“Sokobush”, antique bead apron, S Soto
Zulu beads skirtZulu beads skirt and apron, with bell, antique

Young girls and maidens started with just skirts and aprons, and married women wore full-body wraps and cloaks that were highly appreciated by their owners.

Colors and patternsCreated with printed and dyed fabrics, strips of woven fabric, or beaded attire distinguishes one ethnic group from another. The tribes are proud of the quality of their handmade fabrics, using techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries.

These garments can be used as wraps or capes or sewn on both men’s and women’s garments.

Batik is a cotton fabric designed using wax resistant dyeing.Men In Africa, Yoruba people use cassava paste instead of wax to make Adire cloth this way.

Here are some examples of woven and printed fabrics.

Yoruba Nigeria Aso tub (fine obi woven cloth Adilereso (indigo dyed cloth))

Buganda, Ugandan barkcloth

Asante, Lamb, Ghana Kente cloth (short cloth) Adinkra cloth (printed with paper pattern or stamp) Gonja or Batakari “Fugu” (woven cloth, cotton cloth)

Bambara, Mali mud cloth or Bogolan Fini (Mud resist dyeing cloth)

Masai, Swahili, E Africa Kitenge Kanga (print fabric) Kikoi (woven fabric)

Cuba, Nigeria Kuba or Showa Cloth (raffia woven fabric)

Kitenge Cloth has a long history in East and West Africa, but today it has spread to many other countries on the continent. A casual and inexpensive print fabric with a unique border design and sometimes a political slogan.

Here, a Liberia woman is wearing Kitenge A dress depicting the Liberia flag and political leaders on National Anniversary.

Liberia woman kitenge


There are two levels of weaving. A cotton cloth for general use and a cloth made of silk, partially or entirely, as seen on the other side.

This is widely known’Kente‘cloth. Sadly, the demand for high standards and complex pattern designs has diminished, and Ashanti weaving exceeds its prime.

In some parts of Africa, locals dressed as colonial pioneers to create something very unique.

Herero women in Namibia have adapted German settlers’ Victorian dresses to their own magnificent style with cowhorn-shaped hats.

Modern african clothing

Today, African clothing has its roots in traditional costumes and is worn by millions of people. For both ceremonial and everyday wear. This creates a vibrant and colorful scene wherever you go in Africa.

African dresses consist of a single item or a fully constructed outfit, ranging from simple to complex.


Kaftan Women in Africa today originally wore men’s clothing. In modern times, both men and women wear kaftan. Kaftan can make a very impressive outfit with either a simple robe and hat, or a three-piece ensemble with a hat and scarf.

A Cans

A long-sleeved (usually white) kaftan worn by Swahili men.

Kaftan is popular with both men and women in Central and West Africa, where men are called boubou and women are called boubou. The female m’boubou consists of a large gown that overflows over the rapper and is adorned with an elaborate scarf.

Ann Agbada A Yoruba version of the Nigerian version of the boubou. This is a long, loose-fitting gown with wide sleeves and a central hole for sliding the head, especially worn by Yoruba men. I wore it on a long-sleeved tunic (Buba) and long trousers (Sokoto), and put on a hat (Czech) that matched my outfit.

Normally, all three clothes are the same color.

Modern AgbadaAgbada Moderne, Nigeria

Nowadays, modern African men are embracing the look, but they have replaced the fabric with a lighter one and are wearing it over short sleeves. Buba. Actual Agbada Short in length and width, the pants fit snugly and create a very clean and stylish effect.

Aso tub

Meaning top or “prestige” cross, there are three main types. Alaari, Sanyan, Etu.

Asaoke embroidery4-piece ladies suit, “Asoke”, embroidery, southwestern Nigeria, late 1970s.

Ala Ali is red. Sanyan is usually brown or light brown, and Etu is a dark blue Aso dress.

Originally, the work was either deep indigo, natural beige silk, or imported magenta silk weave.

Today, cotton, polyester, rayon, silk, lurex, and acrylic threads are all fused to long, thin, shimmering fabrics on thin strip looms.

They can be sewn together to create a complete fabric, which can be sewn and decorated, mainly with embroidery on the bodice and the edges of the sleeves for a more artistic expression.

Ankara (Dutch wax)

Kaparana WrapMozambique, a woman in capana wrap

Ensembles are often made of Ankara or Dutch wax fabrics.

It can be an elaborate outfit with a hat or scarf, or a simple wrapper around your waist with a shirt of clothing that you often buy from the second-hand clothing business that has hit the continent in recent years.

Throughout Africa, both men and women wear rapper variations (Also called Kanga, lid, trumpet, Capalana Also Pug).

Ankara It is a vivid material with a rich and colorful pattern.

These designs are a form of expression that pronounces everything from marriage history to popular culture, political and religious beliefs. In recent years, this durable and lightweight fabric has become extremely trendy and has been adopted by luxury designer brands. Its use has come to be used as a base for hats, handbags, shoes, all kinds of clothing, and home decor, not just wraps.

However, despite being known as the typical “African fabric” Ankara Originally manufactured by the Dutch for the Indonesian textile market, it was later diverted to West Africa.

Today, Ghana and Tanzania produce locally made Dutch wax fabrics, but at the top of the mountain is Frisco, who makes this product in the Netherlands. China is also the current producer.

Dutch wax fabricColorful Dutch wax (Ankara) fabric

About a very interesting reading about the history of Ankara Wax print, click here

Dashiki shirt and Madiba shirt

Both These shirts can be both formal or informal, depending on the purpose of the fabric, the style of the garment and the decoration.

A Dashiki
Loose pullover shutters with a V-shaped collar with ornate embroidery on long or short sleeves. It is unisex and comes in a variety of lengths, colors and shapes.

DashikiMen’s Dashiki Shirt

It incorporates the fashion statement of the 1960s in a very modern way, incorporating African heritage in an elegant and striking way.

Nelson Mandela Madiva Put his signature dress on your shirt. This shirt has its roots in Indonesian wax resist fabric, but has since been adopted as African garment, celebrating its style and elegance. Former President of South Africa.

* Contemporary African clothing and designers You can see it on this page

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