The Evolution of Fashion in Africa

The Evolution of Fashion in Africa

The African fashion is intertwined with its culture, and as such it is represented through textile, design and styling. Women dress sense usually form part of their identity and it is also a form of expressing themselves.

Notwithstanding Africa’s diversity in culture, customs, and traditional wear, the African woman fashion wear shares similarities from embroidered robes, to colourful patterned wrappers, beaded necklaces, and bracelets.

Over the years, African fashion has since experienced various stages of transitioning in men and women style most especially, the women fashion. The African woman fashion has significantly evolved through three eras.

Pre- colonial era

Women fashion in Africa’s pre- colonial era reflects an undiluted form of cultural designs and style. During this time many in the African society dedicated their time to arts and crafts, wax prints, sculpting, carving and many more.

Designing served as a tool for showcasing the culture of different communities in the African society. Clothing became one of the canvases used to mirror artistic designs inspired by various cultural beliefs of the diverse African communities.

African women style of dressing was strongly significant in this era. The beauty, age and status of women were judged by their clothing and accessories.

The first form of clothing for women was wrappers. Women wore wrappers around their waist or across their chest adorned with beads, beautification marks known as tribal marks, and colour paintings on the body.

The paintings and marks were used to indicate significant moments, tribe and ritual passages. Many of these customs are now non-existent.

However, African communities such as the Karo people of Ethiopia, the Xhosa people of South Africa, the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria and a host of others still carry on with these customs although not so common.

The African woman fashion in this era can be classified as traditionally suggestive and originally artistic.

Colonial Era

Colonization of many African communities forced, the adoption of western-style in African fashion. As a result of the settlement of colonial masters on the shores of Africa, many African wear and fashion styles underwent changes.

The colonial masters considered the African style of clothing as bestial and unfit to be worn around and as such the enforcement of a new style of fashion took place.

Men and women of African society were introduced to the western way of fashion. Wears such as; pleated skirts, blouses, trousers, ball gowns, boots and hats came into existence and spread wide to many areas in Africa.

African women’s fashion experienced a drastic change of style. Consequently, many traditional wears were replaced and some were influenced by western fashion, although some rural areas in Africa still retain their traditional wear to date.

By the 15th century, African women’s fashion transitioned to a merge of both western and African fashion, due to the shipping routes opened between Africa, Europe and the East.

Trades across the borders brought in materials Africans used to accessories their traditional clothing. Accessories like shells, pearls, shiny stones, and buttons amongst others.

To date, African women’s clothing and style of dressing commonly have a touch of western fashion.


Western fashion served as one of the bedrocks of African woman’s fashion until now. Presently, African designers have taken the western fashion style, broken it and moulded it, into the African style.

Western wear is now sewn with African materials such as Shweshwe, kente, and Ankara amongst others and many have adopted these styles.

African traditional wear has also undergone changes, with inspirations rooted in African culture. These works are being exported all over the world taking charge of the contemporary women’s fashion style. This includes the everyday woman, bougie and elegant fashion style.

Globally, the African woman’s fashion style is in the spotlight from international runways to international trade fair centres, music videos and in use by big international fashion icons like Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Naomi Cambell, Theresa May, Rihanna and a host of others.

The African woman fashion style is taking over the fashion world. African women’s stories are being told through fashion and African designers are sending the messages loudly. Fashion is a language the African woman uses to voice her power, elegance, presence and beauty. Show your African style, own your roots!


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