The History of African Fashion

For years, the international fashion industry has made remarks about African fashion, but not always in the appropriate manner. We talk about where African fashion came from, why it's so popular right now, and what African designers can do to capitalise on the current trend.

Various tribes across the continent take pride in their national dress, which they wear for ceremonies and special occasions.There are numerous dress styles, and the fabric used to make the garment plays an important role in its design. The fabric frequently reflects the state of society as a whole, as well as the status of individuals or groups within that community.

Traditional robes have been replaced or influenced by foreign cultures in some cases, such as colonial influence or western popular dress codes.

History of African Fashion – africanaesthetics
Photo credit: African aesthetics 


Africa is a vast landmass. As a result, the numerous varieties of the African fashion story that exist are influenced by a lot of societies, as well as the status of groups and individuals within those societies. Due to the continent's warm climate, the majority of Africans did not dress for warmth. Men wore loincloths or aprons, while women wore wraps around their waists or breasts. 

Bark cloth, furs, skins, and hides were the first forms of clothing, with the rest of the body adorned with beautification marks and colour pigments. Males simply wore a belt over the bark cloth that ran between their legs. Similarly, women draped the cloth over their belts to conceal their faces.

Africans started sewing separate pieces of woody fabric together with yarn. Grass skirts were popular at one point. Similarly, they adorned the exposed parts of the body with accessories. It included more elaborate jewellery and headpieces made of oyster shells, bones, ostrich ochre, and feathers. Fur, skins, bone, animal tails and hair, raffia, wood, grass, bells, and pressed metal all contributed to a rich and embellished costume, which was particularly used for ceremonial purposes.

Victoria & Albert Museum is working on fashion exhibition about African  fashion

Photo credit; Tek Deeps

Vibrant colors on printed and dyed cloth, woven fabric strips, and beaded clothing differentiated one ethnic group from the other. Tribes took pride in the quality of their hand-made clothes. They used techniques that had been passed down from generation to generation for years. 

After this phase, shipping routes between Europe, Africa, and the East were established around the 15th century. As a result, trade grew. Unusual items arrive from all over the world. Africans coveted them and used them to decorate their clothes. Beads, shells, and buttons were used on clothing as an adornment or as whole apparel. e.g., beaded aprons, robes, hair accessories, and footwear.

The wax prints that are now popular and closely associated with African fashion arrived in Africa in the nineteenth century. During the Dutch colonisation of Indonesia, the Dutch adopted the Indonesians' pattern-making style and automated the process. They attempted to resell it to Indonesians at first but were unsuccessful. They sold it to Africans, who desired it.

The V&A opens its landmark Africa Fashion exhibition

Photo credits; IanVisits

Women began to request specific designs, and specific designs evolved into a form of secret communication among groups of people. As a result, the business flourished. It is still thriving today. 

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