20 Traditional African Dresses To Inspire You [UPDATED]
This post was originally published March 5th, 2021.
Traditional African dresses are synonymous with detailed patterns, bold prints, geometric shapes, and vibrant colors, coupled with bold styles that reveal our artistic heritage.
Whether it’s the iconic kente cloth from Ghana, the elegant gele headwrap from Nigeria, or the flowing boubou from Senegal, each dress really is in a class of its own.
What is the Traditional African Dress?
The traditional African dress is any outfit made of traditional African fabric such as Ankara/Chitenge, Umbhaco, Shweshwe, Aso Oke, Lace, Kemis, and Kente that can be worn for special occasions like weddings, baby showers, funerals, and the like.
The styles are usually unique to the lifestyle and mindset of the Africans that adorn these attires.
Popular African Fabric for Dresses
Ankara, also known as African wax print fabric, Chitenge, or Kitenge is a popular choice for traditional African dresses. The fabric is printed with vivid, colorful patterns using a wax-resistant dyeing technique. African-inspired geometric patterns, floral motifs, and symbols are frequently used in ankara prints.
Adire is a traditional Nigerian fabric that is tie-dyed using indigo dye. It’s renowned for its complex designs, which are made by tying or stitching the fabric before dying it. Adire patterns frequently have striking, abstract patterns that are particular to each artisan.
Mudcloth, also known as bogolanfini, is a traditional Malian fabric that is made by hand-weaving and dyeing with fermented mud. It is characterized by its earthy tones and geometric patterns. Mudcloth patterns often depict symbols and motifs that hold cultural significance.
4. Aso Oke:
Aso Oke is a hand-woven fabric that is native to the Yoruba people of Nigeria. It is typically made from cotton or silk and features vibrant colors and intricate designs. Aso Oke is often used to make traditional clothing for special occasions such as weddings and festivals.
5. Isi Agu:
Isi Agu is a traditional fabric from the Igbo people of Nigeria. It is made from wool and features a distinctive pattern of lion heads, which symbolize strength and courage. Isi Agu was originally used for men’s clothing, particularly for ceremonial events such as weddings and funerals.
6. George Lace:
George Lace is a type of fabric that originated in Europe but is popular in West African fashion. It is made from a blend of cotton and silk and features intricate lace patterns. George Lace is often used to make formal attire for special occasions such as weddings and graduations.
7. Menen fabric :
Menen fabric is a traditional Ethiopian textile that is handwoven from cotton or silk. It is known for its vibrant colors and intricate patterns, often featuring geometric shapes and stripes. Menen fabric is commonly used to make traditional Ethiopian clothing such as dresses, scarves, and shawls.
Where to Buy Traditional African Dresses
If you’re looking to add traditional African dresses to your wardrobe, there are several options available. Here are a few places where you can buy traditional African dresses:
1. Local Markets:
Visit local markets or artisanal shops in African countries or in your own city. These markets often have a wide selection of traditional African dresses and other handmade items.
2. Online Retailers:
Many online retailers specialize in African fashion and offer a variety of traditional dresses. We have featured some dressmakers on Etsy here.
3. African Boutiques Owned by Fashion Designers:
Look for African fashion boutiques in your area. These boutiques often carry a curated selection of traditional African dresses and accessories.
You should think about including some Afrocentric clothing in your wardrobe because the world of traditional African dresses is one that is captivating and full of vivid colors, patterns, and cultural significance.
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