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10 Traditional African Outfits Every Black Person Should Have In Their Closet

I absolutely love looking at people in authentic African attire.  The colors and prints are bold and beautiful, the fabric is exquisite and the styles are unique and endless. Traditional African clothing dates back thousands of years and represents tribalism, symbolism and a rich cultural heritage. Its roots are deep in their ethnic origins, and reflect the traditions and status of certain individuals or groups.  As African-Americans we wear these beautiful pieces on various occasions, or some choose to wear them every day.    

I’m here to tell you about several traditional African outfits.  Every African-American should at least have one of these beautiful garments in their closet. Wearing African clothing means so much more to many people than simply being a fashion statement. Each symbol, color and even the shape of the clothing can have a specific purpose or meaning.    

Iro ati Buba – This is one of my favorites.  It’s native to Yoruba women of Nigeria.  The outfit contains five pieces:  Iro, which is a large wrapper tied to fit around the waist, Buba, which is a loose blouse worn on the upper part of the body and  Gele, which is a head-tie. Nigerian women are globally famous for wearing these: Pele, which is a short fabric tied on top of the Iro around the waist, and  Iborun, a scarf that runs around the upper left part of the body from the left shoulder.  

Kente – We’re all familiar with the Kente.  It’s a unisex piece, originating from the Ashanti and Ewe people of Ghana.  Historically, Ghanian royalties wore the fabric in a toga-like fashion.  

Habesha Kemis – This style belongs to Habesha women of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and is usually worn at formal events, holidays and invitations. It’s usually a robe that stretches from the neck to the ankles.  It typically comes in gray, beige or white shades. 

Djellaba – It’s also known as the Jillaba.  It’s a long, loose-fitting unisex robe. It is usually full-sleeved and worn in the Maghreb region of North Africa.  Men wear light-colored Djellabas along with an Arab fez hat and babouche footwear for religious festivals and other occasions. 

Shuka – It belongs to the Maasai people of Tanzania and Kenya.

Dashiki – This is another one that we’re familiar with.  It’s indigenous to the Ewe people of Ghana.  It’s a unisex loose-fitting shirt, long or full-sleeved, with an embroidered V-shaped collar. It comes in many forms and colors.

Isidwaba – It is a popular dress among the Zulus.  It’s a traditional skirt worn by betrothed or married women in Southern Africa.  It is usually a leather skirt made from cowhide or goatskin.  

Isiagu – It finds its roots among the Igbo people of South-East Nigeria.  Isiagu translates to “the head of a leopard.”  It is a long, loose-fitting top usually worn over a pair of black trousers. It’s known as a status symbol among Igbo men.  

Toghu/Atoghu – It’s indigenous to and very popular among the Bamileke people of North-Western Cameroon.  The texture of the fabric is beautiful and has a rich feel to the skin.  In the past, only men and women of royalty wore the Toghu as a sign of traditional superiority over the commoner.  While we’re not prideful, we are royalty.  

Kanzu – It is an ankle or floor length garment that is white or cream.  It is worn by men in the African Great Lakes region.  It is referred to as a tunic in English.  It’s popular in Uganda, where the men wear it to weddings and festivals, and consider it their most important dress.  

 

One doesn’t have to go far to find these beautiful pieces.  A local clothing store or a quick search online will provide many options to choose from.  Plus, there is something for everyone’s budget.  Of course the authentic African fabrics are going to cost more, but it’s worth it. If you can afford it. 

 

 

 

Janet Downs | Janet Downs is an instructor with over 20 years of experience, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. She volunteers and is a resource for the homeless community and is working towards starting her own non-profit. She’s passionate about mental health and seeks to bring more awareness to the black community. She is active in church ministry, a writer, and loves music, hiking, and travel. 

Janet Downs
Janet Downs
Janet Downs is an instructor with over 20 years of experience, having worked for Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. She volunteers and is a resource for the homeless community & is working towards starting a non-profit. She’s passionate about mental health & seeks to bring more awareness to the black community. She is a writer, active in church ministry, & loves music, travel, & hiking.
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