Fashion & Style

African lady traditional clothing

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Woman in African clothing
Natural fibers are popular in African women's clothing because they allow increased functionality while providing a natural beauty
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Vibrant colors and natural fibers capture African style.

Africa is a vast continent, with a vast cultural array and a place of close to a thousand different languages and dialects. The cultural array is evident in about a thousand tribes spread throughout Africa. In each culture there is a unique history seen in food, housing structure, family, community cultures and in fashion.

Since each tribe has its specific culture in defining African lady traditional clothing or traditional clothing for African people, one would have to examine each culture. African clothing covers garments from loin cloths still worn by some tribes - if only in ceremonial functions to complex balloon dresses worn as every day fare in some tribes and royal garb in others.

Traditional African clothing is typically dependent on several key factors:  faith, culture and weather. Durable and natural fibers are predominant in clothing because they allow increased functionality and provide a natural beauty. Silk, for those able to afford it, is also popular in Africa's traditional fashions, with Egyptian cotton viewed as among the best fabrics for the climate in various regions.

Some of the most widely seen examples of African lady traditional clothing are similar to Western versions seen in specialty retail stores and sold widely online. The aso oke, which is a traditional African fabric, primarily made from woven strips stitched together in quilting fashion. The fabric is then cut into the shape of the garment. In the Yoruba culture the women's aso oke, has four parts: the buba (blouse), a wrap skirt, a head tie and a shawl (which is sometimes worn as a shoulder sash). Because of the woven and pieced together colors and textures of the aso oke, some women do not cut or shape into a garment; instead they wear it like the sari draped around their bodies and tied as comfortable.

In Eastern Cape, South Africa we find the Xhosa people, a woman's clothing style popular in this region is modern Mbaco Clothes. Mbaco is a one hundred percent cotton fabric that comes in three primary and traditional colors for the area: cream, red and orange. In the past few years, Mbaco garments are finished with traditional braids in black with colorful bead work. Braided embellishments are the norm in several regions of the content.

The Zulu women, particularly older women wear clothes that cover their full bodies. They may wear the isicholo; a wide hat made of straw and decorated with beads (ubuhlalu). They also frequently wear isidwaba; a pleated skirt made of cowhide and softened by hand. Younger women sometimes decorate their isidwaba with beads, whereas older women tend to wear theirs without embellishment. Beads, by the way, are the pride of the Zulu nation; they encompass a symbolic language that may include reprimands and warnings, messages of love, and encouragement.

Traditional African wear for women comes in a variety of styles and a surprising array of colors and prints. Colors vary from earth tones into vibrant colors such as indigos. Designs are from the flowing kaftan to the more traditional fitted African Queen outfits.

Other common designs are: The traditional African Kaftan or Boubou originally worn by the West African men they have become traditional wear for women. Developed and passed down from Cleopatra Queen of Egypt; silk kaftans embellished with prints, embroidery, small mirrors and amulets are often seen. The tie dyeing technique has been used for traditional African wear for women for thousands of years. The Tauregs (believed to be a people so dark, they are called blue people of the desert) used the indigo plant for dying and the method of tie dyeing spread through out Africa for traditional African woman's wear. The patterns, symbols and designs are worn with meaning and some believe some women wear tie dye patterns for fertility.

Modern royal queens and traditional African woman's wear is more stylish yet has a unique look with the ruffled sleeves and flounced bodice. It is commonly thought that this styling has been influenced by the South African 'Voer trekkers'. The Voer trekkers were white people that made their way up through Africa in ox wagons bringing with them a western influence. The influence of the west merged with the colors and natural fibers of several African regions, to create fashion trends still prominent in contemporary fashion in Africa.

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