For years, “African” fashion representation in the West has been stuck in a dichotomy of shapeless “Mama’s family” unflattering nightgown designs and “Jungle Jane” bare skin or skin cladding, loud, blinding wax print styles. I put “African” in quotes because even in this day and age, big-name designers and well-recognized brands continue to perpetuate the idea that everyone on the continent dresses the same way. If you are here reading this, I know you already know that Africa is a continent. You also probably know that there are regional differences in fashion styles throughout this beautiful land called home by more than 1.2 billion people. Like many things about the continent, regional Fashion designs and styles are diverse in culture, rich in heritage, fashion trends ebbs and flows depending on which part of the continent you happen to find yourself in, and the time of year (not necessarily seasons) you are in that particular region. In our subsequent posts, I will highlight some of the fashion trends – both traditional and modern from these regions.
You may be wondering – where am I going with all of these and why did I invite you to take this journey with me. I have always wondered why certain clothing styles and trends are universally accepted and others are not looked at the way. For example – why is it acceptable for everyone to buy dresses, skirts, blouse in any given color/patterns, but once the print and the fabric is changed and there’s a hint of regional identification to it, only a certain segment of the population will buy it – why is that? Think of it this way – Eating/feeding is universal. It brings comfort, a sense of love, warmth and satisfaction, we all eat right? If you live in a place like Los Angeles, you can easily walk into any type of “ethnic” restaurant, order the food and eat without thinking anything of it. We all need clothing – it provides comfort, warmth, a sense of beauty, and confidence. However, our behavior towards “ethic” clothing is vastly different than what we display toward ethnic food. When it comes to fashion – the lines a drawn and it’s very clear where not to cross. We buy clothing that “everyone” has accepted as the “standard” without questions so far as it meets the basic criteria of comfortable, beautiful, and it makes you feel good. Why is that? I will use this medium to explore why clothing styles and designs from Africa – and any other parts of the world outside the European context is not universally accepted and what we can do to change this point of view, and most importantly why we need to change this point of view.