Fashion and style -Africa’s place in global fashion.

African fashion and style

Fashion and style.

Fashion and style co-occurs; especially as the former is more collective while the latter is more directed to the person. Fashion is like a growing child which constantly modifies to suite the times at which one is in. Just like getting the winter coats for snowy days.

It wasn’t uncommon to see ladies take pride in their long maxi skirts, you know, the A-line skirts with stripes on them in the early 2000s. This often goes with a body-tight blouse and belt worn a little above the belly button, laying a little emphasis on the waist. On the other hand, strapless tops were quite common alongside low-waist jeans and a funny hat topped with a small bag. This was in the early 2000s, where contemporary street fashion was burgeoning, first, from the West and on to other parts of the globe. Years went by and each year, a new trend emerged, continuing a decade after in a more fast-paced manner.

Fashion and style are arts which describe one’s attire, hair, and accessories and in order to enhance natural beauty. When you talk about the fashion of the day, you’re referring to ongoing trends. Fashion goes beyond the clothes worn or accessories added. It represents a culture, symbol, personality, mood, sorority, social status, religious affiliation, and ideology. The subject of identity in fashion is highly considered and well-researched upon as it has a connection with style.

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Many fashion enthusiasts and connoisseurs have described fashion in a couple iconic ways. One of them defines style as “a way to say who you are without having to speak” (Rachel Zoe). And Ralph Lauren sees it as “something that comes from within you”, not necessarily about labels or brands. Betsy Johnson believes that, “girls do not dress for boys. They dress for themselves and for each other. If girls dressed for boys, they’d just walk around naked at all times.”

What does fashion and style sense mean to people?

To some people, fashion is an art. While to others, fashion is expressed by a desire to standout. A part of us prefer expressing who we are and sometimes how we feel, with our fashion and our style. Without having to explain much.

In the Western world, fashion best conforms with existing beauty trends. However, in earliest times, fashion became a censored and monitored event by men.  In Mesopotamia, Greek women had their clothes inspected by appointed male judicial officers. These officers worked solely to ensure women looked chaste in public. At the time, many of these women appeared in veils. In his essay, Moralia, ancient Greek philosopher Plutarch discusses the licentiousness of men. Where he opined that it is the woman’s responsibility to avoid male attention by shielding her body and face. This Greek tradition formed the basis of dress codes today. It equally laid the foundation to the still common perception that women must dress appropriately. So as to avoid harassment by men on the street.

How has fashion and style evolved?

From the 1400s up to the early 1900s, corsets (a kind of stiff lace bodice) were used with different styles. Its constricting feature defines a woman’s waist and enhances her curves. More so, fashion houses were on the rise with Paris being a main fashion destination.

However,  from the 1910s, fashion gradually evolved into something completely new. Fashion in the 1920s took the form of androgynous looks. This had women preferring a more sporty look as the society praised flat-chested women with a downplayed waist and overall boyish figure. Men took on sporty looks as well and added flannel trousers popularly called Oxford bags to their style. The Little Black Dress gained popularity at this time by the iconic Coco Chanel and is still in vogue today. In addition, this designer was also able to create the popular skirt-suit which revolutionized women’s wear and allowed easier movement.

The 1930s saw the emergence of a conservative style of dressing and women embraced their femininity in fashion. Preferring ankle-length skirts and long evening dresses. However, more ladies started wearing trousers at this time. Women also took interest in sports as well, hence, gaining  more athletic figures. After World War II, in the 1940s, factory-made clothes became prominent as most fashion houses had closed.

In the 1950s, unisex clothes became the trend with figure-enhancing A-line dresses and mini-skirts. Men also preferred tight trousers, brightly coloured military jackets and patterned shirts.

In the 70s, the punk style, a weird, hippy kind of style, emerged. Where men preferred long flared trousers, and women opted for maxi skirts and bell-bottomed trousers. The same style continued in the 80s with men and women having piercings, tattoos and dyed hair.

The millenium

The 1990s paved way for more simplistic styles in Western fashion. More so, globalization led to international influences in fashion. It was quite common to hear of fashion weeks and other popular trend-related shows.

The 2000s has seen a preference in street outfits or comfortable clothes. You know, the type everyone likes to wear. And this style has eventually spread throughout the world.

Nonetheless, beauty standards has also been dynamic. In the 20s, boyish and sporty looks became options as perfect wears for women. In the 30s, women with the hourglass figure were considered perfect as well. The society also preferred thin tall athletic women in the 80s. Today, women with flat stomachs, “healthy” looking skin, thigh gaps, large breasts and butts; are perceived to be generally attractive.

Africa was also affected by these Western trends. Though years after decolonization. Prior to foreign contact, many societies adopted their own form of dressing which went beyond adorning or clothing the body. Dressings equally indicated the status of an individual or a significant event like rites of passage. Clothes were not always worn for warmth due to the hot climates of many regions in the continent. However, most people found a way of covering their bodies and expressing their taste in fashion. This includes creating pieces off tree barks, from hides and skin, and thereafter, cotton, silk and raffia. Innovations in the area of textile making and accessories sensitized people on being quite specific about how they wanted their personal styles.

In the 1920s through the 1940s, most regions were quite conservative. In line with specific cultures and traditions, staying within the confines of gender boundaries. Attires and hairstyles that well-modified to suit both genders. For women revealed their femininity through their styles, just as men revealed their masculinity through fashion.

It is true that every culture had its style until European influence.

Undoubtedly, since colonialism, Africa has incorporated western style as its own with designers creating styles inspired by Western culture. This is however not enough reason to downplay the beauty of African fashion. The London Fashion Week, Milan Fashion week, and a host of others has exhibited the contemporary African fashion. This is either by African designers or others within Europe and the US.

Since identity has a connection with fashion, it is no surprise that one of the motivations behind people’s outfits and accessories were borne from a desire to be unique. As this appealed to others, they also got theirs.

Most times, the choice of clothes to wear is normally dictated by the personality of the individual, further establishing the fact that the choice of fashion is made to represent personal identity. Hence, the reason why many who embrace fashion (trends) are often in a state of identity crisis. Why? Because the many styles that emerge every single time, portray a myriad of identities.

How many Africans reserve their culture in the midst of evolution?

African fashion gained the noteworthy position in pop culture. This is evident in a couple Western movies, series, and music where the actors appear in various African styles.

Although globalization would make an African choose, say, an Armani jacket over a Fruché’s Akwaocha tunic, which are different items, both are luxury brands and the latter representing many other African brands, should be worthy of representation as a unique contribution to global fashion. Still, most Africans have always chosen and continually choose Western-style, western products, western everything, over homemade goods due to that stereotype that most homemade products are inferior or cheap.

We have not clearly defined the African style outside the continent. The ‘African print’ itself is of Dutch origin. Africa produces these wax prints truly, but places like China and Europe manufacture it too. Africa has variety of textiles like the Aso Oke from the Yorubas of southwestern Nigeria; the Kente which originates from Ashanti and Ewe cultures in Ghana; the Kikoi cloth from the horn of Africa particularly Kenya; and the woven cloth of the Ndebele people of South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. Whereas, African accessories range from locally-produced jewelries like necklaces, gold or silver bracelets, ankles, waist beads, etc.

What does Africa contribute to the global fashion industry and trend in general?

The fashion business is huge in Africa, accounting for the second-largest number of jobs in developing countries after agriculture, the industry is still in its infancy. According to the AFDB, Africa produces 10% of the world’s cotton, then exports to Asian markets to be spun into yarn and then woven into fabric. There is however, less value added in the process.

Nations like Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa have been taking the lead in expanding the market and creating fashion exhibition shows. These have helped to introduce African trends and talented designers to the globe. Ghana, Senegal, Angola, Burkina Faso, etc, are also some of their contenders.

Africa accounts for a small portion of the $1.5 trillion global fashion industry. With Sub-Saharan Africa’s apparel and footwear market valued at $31 billion according to Euromonitor.

Africans, therefore, have to tap into the multi-billion dollar industry by supporting burgeoning fashion businesses and investing in the promising industry with the capital and skills required.


In all, fashion has come a long way and the beauty standards of each culture has tremendously influenced it. Some fashion trends are amusing to behold, which leaves you with the realization that fashion trends would keep evolving. Beauty standards and fashion trends will always change and keep evolving, but people will  tick to what is uniquely theirs. People choose what represents them, or what is preferred. For no one can do much about society’s ever-changing trends except going with the flow or standing out.

What actions would you take today to this regard, if you were a fashion enthusiast? What would you tweak, or completely change?

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