Africa is a land of colours. Whether it is the arid landscape of the nearby desert, the green lushness of the jungle or the urban jungle of cities, colourful dresses and men's clothes stand out, full of bright colours and designs that cannot escape attention. Looking back, I can see the similarities between African designs and my doodles, and I find it exciting! I am a second generation Senegalese-born and raised, and I take pride in that fact. Growing up in Senegal was an amazing experience, and I will need many blog entries to describe it all. Senegal has to be one of the most hospitable countries on earth, where smiles and graciousness are everywhere to be seen. And there's the food, the music, the landscapes, the traditions, the different dialects that are rich with one of the most encompassing History in mankind.
But back to fashion. How mainstream has African fashion become? The answer is “very”. Everyone knows about “tribal” looks and how widely available they became starting around 2010. Even though many fashion designers “borrowed” a lot of authentic African fashion designs and forgot to give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, the results are still beautiful.
The beauty of African fashion is that it fights the landscapes and the most brutal weather trends: heat and plenty of sunshine. From the West Coast to the East Coast, from the North to the South, Africa is a giant continent of extremes: deserts, lush jungles, arid landscapes, green, luxuriant mountains and valleys, it has it all. In response to these extremes, African cultures have adapted their fashion sense and gave prominence to a large amount of colours and designs, exaggerated forms that fight sameness and predictability. The results are a feast for the eyes and the senses, making one almost dizzy looking at the variety and richness of African fashion.
Modern day African fashion using Batik fabrics
The main elements of African clothing are “pagnes” (loin cloths) for women and men, as well as “boubou”, which are long tunics worn over pants for men and long tunics worn over skirts or pagnes for women, with slits on the sides. The two main fabrics used in African fashion are Batik and Bazin, both made of cotton.
Batik is a wax and dye process that gives magnificent and highly colored fabrics such as the below examples:
Batik designs are a time intensive process that results in colorful fabrics. African women are proud of their clothes and like to make sure these garments reflect a mood, an occasion, a holiday or a celebration. Batiks help in eliciting their moods and the environment they are in.
Even the most mundane tasks do not stop African women from using colours and designs to express their tastes.
Senegalese women wearing Batik pagnes
Then there are celebrations in which the imagination runs wild and free spirited, resulting in beautiful clothing for women and men:
Distinctive African design with the short skirt emphasizing the waist
Men tend to favor the other celebrated fabric named Bazin. Bazin is a rich and very thick cotton that is worked and processed until it becomes this rich, shiny fabric with moiré effects. These two men wearing boubous made of Bazin are a very good example of what the fabric can do in terms of giving a distinctive look only enriched by a simple, effective design. Notice the sheen that is so distinctive of Bazin fabric, and is very similar to brocade.
The other important element is head covering. On a continent where sun and heat prevail, head coverings become necessary and therefore call for artistic expressions that render them fashionable and so pretty to look at. Women tend to have their head coverings match their outfit, and the results are always lovely:
Men’s head coverings are simpler, usually consisting either of knit caps or kufis. In Senegal and throughout most of West Africa, men are expert at crocheting and many sell their creations in the streets, on beaches and markets. Kufis are mostly worn by Muslims, but even African Christians have embraced the stylish and ornate look they have.
There is so much more to write about African fashion, and this only skims the surface. I will be covering more about the topic in the future. I want to highlight African fashion designers of today, as their talent is great and their future seems bright. Thank you for reading and until next time!