Fashion, Beauty and Lifestyle

Africa’s Varying Fashion

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“Promoting African fashion is key to Judith Banya…and she brings to it her knowledge of African fashion history.”

Clothing is one of the main expressions of African culture.  Known for its distinctive design and colourful textile, its cultural significance is not normally taken on board.

During the periods of the Trans Saharan trade, cloth was used as a form of currency.  This was the main way in which African cloth spread globally.  Africans exchanged their cloth for European goods from Indians. Europeans in turn exchanged Indian cloth for gold from Africans.  With time, the quality and colours of African cloth were an indication of one’s wealth and social standing in society.

The Ashanti in West Africa use cloth to differentiate people’s status.  They have a fine Kente cloth which symbolizes leadership.  The Banyankole chiefs from Western Uganda wore floor length clothes made from cattle hide.  The ordinary folk wore a lesser portion of this piece of clothing over their shoulders.

There are different types of African cloth available today, the oldest of which is the hand woven cloth.  It was and still is time consuming to make, rendering it the most rare and valuable of African clothes in view of the fact that it’s woven from locally spun threads.  Other fabrics include batiks, industrial prints and tie-dyes.  Even though Africans have a lot of pride and faith in their ancestral clothes, they have now started using Asian and European clothes and thread to create their styles.  This is probably due to market factors.

The advent of Asian and European clothes in the manufacture of African styles has created cross cultural influences.  African designers now create western style fashions using African cloth.  These range from ties and coats; blouses; sarongs; skirts and lots more.  One of the most notable and arguably the best influences of African styles is the combination of denim with African fabric like lubugo from Uganda and/or batiks from West Africa.

Africans have also used these foreign influences to enhance their existing styles while sticking to tradition.  With the changing roles of community setting, Africans realize that some of their traditional styles may not necessary be suitable for certain aspects of their daily lives.   Styles have now evolved to suit all aspects of African and foreign ways of life to suit clients in the Diaspora.  Most notable is the head dress from West Africa that is elegant yet not necessarily practical at all times.  The gomesi from Uganda has been described as challenging to have on, in addition to keeping it in place.

African styles now have a wide range and have been suitably adapted for evening apparel, clothing for work, clothing for men and clothing for any other occasions like funerals, christenings, naming ceremonies and lots more.  The challenges of donning the gomesi has been alleviated by the introduction of the commonly called half-gomesi that fits on like a dress, reducing concerns with getting it on. Any African fashion enthusiast does not have a reason to miss out on any aspect of their favorite clothing.

by Judith Banya-Kyanda

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