Four decades ago, the Rock Music star, Dolly Parton wrote and sang a song, Coat of Many Colors. The song is about a patched coat her mama made for her from her premature brother’s shoal that sadly passed on. She always wore it with pride until bullies at her school made fan of her. This story I will narrate another day lest I derail from by interest here which is art. I get some facts here that weaving, knitting and stitching did not just begin today; in fact there is a lot of art work that was done then than is today. This is comparable to our traditional African wear.
Traditional African wear customarily was done from fiber plants and woven to form a piece of cloth. Ghana is believed to have been among the first countries to make cloth. Today it has some of the most incredible and impressive wax print fabrics crowning Africa with West African Pride, I give my verdict. Although, this has come from afar, we can now smile that Ghana traditional wear styles have gone global and people world over love this vintage fabrics.
Credited for being the hub of African prints and one of the evolutionary leaders that has brought a lot of refurbishments in the textile and fashion industry, Ghana is celebrated for intricate designs. The western countries have also bowed down and appreciated the traditional Ghana fashion and actually borrow a leaf or two from it; some copied art we are proud to have been the pioneers. Today their style has spread all over the world.
Traditional African fashion trends
Style has existed since time immemorial. It is of great interest to see the world being moved by some of the traditional thing and it even gets better when it is African traced. This is one of the new developments to see people of diverse ethnic backgrounds being comfortable with the differences and even embracing the diversity as if it were their own. Instead of being a divisive factor it has become a unifying factor strangely. Old is gold I suppose, and in this context the gold must be a yet to be optimally explored resource.
It is worthwhile putting it on record that the African traditional wears were both for men and women although they distinctly took different paths in terms of design and style. However, the underlying fact is that they both had cloths made from kente or Ankara fabrics which are Africa made. The children and young adults similarly, had their own designs. In addition these clothes were no for every day wear, as a matter of fact they were worn on highly cultural and religious functions, this is because they had meanings. Interesting right!
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Here is a little insight of Ankara by explaining one of the real and relatable classical example of the meanings given to the over 300 Ankara patterns. When the first President of the republic of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah married an Egytian woman, Fathia, the in style pattern of the kente fabric made at the time was given the name Fathia Fata Nkrumah. This design is still in production today. It is worn to symbolize unity with other different nation as was with the marriage. This is the beauty about the traditional Ghana fashion.
Let's approach the traditional African wear from the very ancient one before modernization to the trending modern African traditional wear. This is because there is a lot of variance in subject to the ages and the practices of the time:
Native Ghana traditional wear styles
This is the ancient wear among the Ghanaian people before civilization and long before colonization. Ideally, small craft industries that were not so elaborate existed, but the kente cloth was made from the palm fiber tree grown in Ghana. The fiber would be picked from the plants, dyed and be used to make cloth. The first cloth to be made was in 1400 and looked more of a basket. However, they were also creative enough to work on improving this.
Conceptually, the kente fabric was made in small pieces then knit together to form a roll which could be sold or used to make cloth. Men used to have one piece of the cloth wrapped up around their bodies held on one of the shoulders accessorized by a hat or cap.. Women used two pieces, one to wrap around the waist and the other on the upper parts of the body and so this was the traditional African wear among the Ghanaians.
Traditional Ghanaian wear
However, in this time much of the intellect was put in place though no advanced form of machinery was there. Nonetheless, the kente cloth used to be made. Men were wearing the kente made shirt and pants combination more or less a suit. The greatest invention was probably the embroidery work which was stitched at the front chest part of the shirt in this traditional Ghana fashion.
Again this look was ceremonial and one could not rock it anywhere they pleased. It was purely for special occasions such as weddings, cultural events and religious rites. As would apply with the latter and subsequent, different patterns denoted various meanings so ideally this was approached with great reverence. Women wore dresses and skirt from the kente cloth as per what they made.
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Modern African traditional wear
This is a development or improvement of the traditional African wear into a trendy, fashionable and dazzling way to they be relevant for this day. Ideally, designers have really rolled up their sleeves and have come up with some of the amazing modern African traditional wear for both men and women.
The first notable thing are the fabric characteristics; high quality, wide range of pattern, awesome colors and combination, and artistic elements. The kente cloth ordinarily is bright and colorful – not forgetting textile industry has learned the art of doing color contrast and saturation perfectly. There is a lot of variation in style and design and the artistic elements are just spectacular.
Men have the choice of stylish kente suits, shirts, pants, shorts, and blazers. I never thought color is such a powerful voice of who you are until I observed the male traditional Ghana fashion that is in every bit refined. The above can be accessories with a tie, head cap, shoes, lapel, bow tie, bag, belt and shoes according to one’s preference and how dapper you want to look.
Women are spoilt for choice; their dresses, skirts and top have the most versatile designs. Dresses can be long or short with amazing designs such as mermaid, skater, and body con among others. The neckline is yet another featured element in arts; can be round, laced, long V neck, off shoulder, cleavage showing among other creative designs. I short the modern woman can rock the traditional Ghana fashion in style without compromising on their feminine beauty. Skirts range from free flowing either long or short to straight pencil, fish like bottom, and high waist among other captivating designs. Tops equally come with this versatility.
African traditional engagement wear
According to the African traditional practices transition from one stage in life to the next in the life of a person was a cultural event and therefore called for communal coming together. This had to be so whether the surrounding circumstances were for merry or grief. The community would gather up together perform various rites as per the occasion to appease the gods. In fact it is believed wearing the traditional African wear print was a sign of showing love, respect and reverence to the ancestors.
The engagement ceremony was no exemption and hence such provisions had to be strictly adhered to. Ideally, a traditional engagement wear had to be very decent yet flirty to reveal the masculinity of femininity of a person. Again it had to be from the traditional Ghana fashion which is the obvious kente or Ankara cloth. This is because one had to identity with their cultural practices and besides this was something even the parties involved took a lot of pride in.
The girl and the man she was to be engaged to would dress in similar kente designs. This would make it easy to identify who the supposed bride and groom to be are. Remember this occasion was done at the girl’s home so the other family would come over for negotiations and celebrations.
Traditional African tribal wear for men
This is one of the traditional African fashion trends that are popular in practice even in this age of technology. The man is given a native authority look or feels thanks to the traditional Ghanaian wear. The man is to dress to portray good traits such as leadership, initiator, problem solver, and innovative, cultural, people loving and dignified in short someone respectable for the good man they are. This look basically was for the men in positions of leadership such as kings and chiefs that conventionally ordinarily citizen could never be found in. However, times are changing this has become acceptable a widely worn
The specific details for the traditional African tribal wear for men were; same color, pattern or design for both the pants and the shirt. The shirt was the most pronounced element appearing very baggy with a stately look, round neck, or V-neck commonly was incorporated into the shirt. If the fabric used is all patterned or of a monotone color embroidery was done although this was not mandatory. It only served the beauty purpose only.
It was to be complimented but a small African cap or the big hats according to ones preference. A walking stick to show authority and respect could similarly go well alone with matching shoes. In some case, the man would wear the beaded necklace is need be. This is the complete African tribal wear for the men. In retaliation, this was a style for specific functions that were perceived important to the community.
Traditional wear for Ghanaian ladies
Women and fashion are just names that can be used in exchange for one another. Where there are women, there is fashion and where fashion can be found women are also. They are just like fraternal twins. Women are very stylish and the industry has just found something to be thrilled about, a good design is a must have for any woman so long as finances are held constant. Besides, who would be bothered by a good look or rather don’t want to look dapper?
There is a lot of variations and diversity in the traditional wear for Ghanaian ladies. They come in all styles and design to be suitable to women of all age and even for simple to sophisticated celebrity looks. Below are some of the ever dazzling trending traditional African style dresses:
African traditional laces dresses
This is a traditional Ghana fashion that is not going to wither away any time soon. In fact, it is just like fine wine, the style gets better with new designs. Laces for some time now was not a common phenomena in the traditional African wear, however, this is no longer the case. Apparently, lace is the in rogue sense of good grooming today for women. From the short dresses to the beautiful gown, lace has become an ingrained element that is just awesome.
The African traditional lace dresses have this antic on the breast plate and on the arm. It works really magically in bringing out the natural curves of African roots. With the increasing demand for lace dresses this is a good outfit that should be in your closet.
Traditional African wedding dresses
The diversity in color and design found in intricate kente fabric is one factor that makes a wedding more memorable. The West African Textile leaves no detail when perfecting the art of show stopping fabrics for weddings. These ceremonial outfits are primarily in various distinct colors yellow, orange, green, gold and blue. They represent holy and preciousness, life, growth and good health, royalty and wealth, love and peace respectively. This is not to say kente prints with other color combinations are not good, no. every color as I had mentioned has it meaning and significance to the community.
The wedding dress that befit the occasion should be of African print fabric-kente, decent cutting and design regardless of whether it is the short styles or the gown styles, be stylish and a unique creative design. These conditions then make the cloth be acceptable as modish by the contemporary world. These is a collection of wedding dresses a lady can choose from both online and at the boutiques.
African traditional dresses for plus size
There has been an emphasized need for a woman to be of a certain size. Naturally we cannot all be in this bracket; there are those struggling to gain weight and yet those who are struggling to lose the same. Sometimes weight comes with genetics, medical conditions, poor dieting and birth. Either way, losing weight is not something that can be done within a fortnight.
Pride comes in when we embrace the size and stature we are in; after all there is nothing much you can do to some. The plight of plus size woman has been heard by the fashion designers. In response they have created some amazing designs of the African traditional dresses for plus size. The dress designs are to flatter the body and make it appear smaller and more elegant. In style they bring out the natural curves a plus size woman has making them look sexy with age not being a factor.
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African traditional maternity dresses
I have heard women exchange consolation statements such as, don’t worry when the nine months are past you will get back to looking beautiful all over again. The question is, does the nine months need to make you feel miserable and less attractive? Women let’s get straight here a woman needs to look good all the time. May be some may not understand because they are not in the shoes the other person is walking on at that particular time and season.
Thanks to the over 400 kente patterns we have around, a pregnant woman can chose a flattering design and have a free flowing dress for maternity that is comfortable to accommodate the growth and fashionable to enjoy the journey. Some of the traditional African wear include: long free flowing dress or a short circular dress. Fitting is the primary underlying factor here since the mother needs to feel comfortable throughout the pregnancy. These African traditional maternity dresses can be of different designs at the upper part but free flowing from the bust downwards. This chic fashion sense in maternity wear helps the expectant mother to be happy and comfortable as they await their bundle of joy in due time.
There is a new trend I have seen for maternity wear which is just one of those modern African traditional wear. A flowing kente top is worn with leggings that have an elastic band for the modern woman who still desire to have the cultural touch in their grooming regardless of season. This is trending as of today not only for the pregnant women but for all ladies.
History of traditional wear in Ghana
The history of the traditional Ghanaian wear dates back pre-colonial period when much of the civilization witnessed today was never was. The Ashanti Region of Ghana is where this unique fashion niche and cloth making started. Production of cloth was done manually and this trade quickly spread north and south. The Northern region of Ghana referred their cloth as Gonja or Ghanaian smock, while the Southern region called theirs Kente.
Kente is the most popular thanks to the brilliant colors, designs and styles is comes with. Kente comes from the word Kenten, which mean basket. This is because the first cloth closely resembled the basket and improvements have been made from that first innovation. However, the native Asante people call it Nwentoma, which in layman’s language means woven cloth. Back in the days, this cloth would only be worn by figures of authority such as chiefs and kings. However, today it is part of the traditional Ghanaian wear accepted legally as the Ghanaian national wear and ordinarily citizen can put it on with no fear of intimidation.
The gonja cloth on the other hand was picked from cotton, dyed and hand woven in pattern of black/ blue white striped patterns. They were then sewn together sold as a roll or used to make clothing. It was mostly worn by men and the only complimentary thing done to it was the addition of embroidery – no much improvement has been done to this fabric. This explains why the cloth is utterly not so popular. Kente cloth is and is worn symbolically for special political and religious functions due to the cultural aspect attached to it. This is little known to people who go for the wear because it is colorful, unique and stylish downplaying the traditional association either in or out of knowledge.
In the 20th century that is when the traditional Ghana fashion did hit it breakthrough. Thanks to technology and modernization, machinery that could offer efficient and economical alternative to the craft textile industries that existed came to being. This brought a hurricane shift positively in how production was done and as a result the industry expanded throughout the country – Ghana. This expansion and paradigm shift equally had an impact on the designs and products produced. The variations in color, designs and style became evident, and the consumers had a broad spectrum of the traditional African wear to choose from.
As the cotton and textile industries got established left right and centre competition was bound. This helped to bring in diversity as they competed to be the best in terms of quality of produce, uniqueness and range of products. Local designer also put their best foot forward in making unforgettable designs and this spurred up interest in this kente cloth internationally. The rich and powerful started demanding for this traditional Ghanaian wear but it was very difficult to get the cloth.
Fashion designers jetted into the country to research about the cotton and textile industry precisely the kente cloth, more so in its production process and the African culture itself. This was not easy because at the time most of the companies were state run and few entrepreneurship were as they as today. The Renowned fashion designer, Kofi Ansah was part of the group that wanted to explore the traditional Ghana fashion. To cut the long story short, they eventually got all these information and hands on touch with the traditional African wear.
A lot of ideas has since then been incorporated into the wear as designers try to strike a balance between the western culture and the African culture. However, the traditional African tribal wears are still being worn unremorsefully. Some creative work has revamped the industry with cultured and attractive designs and the designers never disappoint in making the outfit global. Today in the runways, the modern African traditional wear is an almost obvious thing to find in the contemporary world.
There are two things that have worked silently for the steadfastness the Ghanaian fashion industry has today. First was the entry of private companies; this reconditioned the sector since the government owned industries somehow operated with a lot of rigidity and less open mindedness. This made the companies lowly lost relevance since it was not change in response to the dynamic economic environment. The private companies on the other hand, worked to remain relevant, provide the unique designs the market was demanding for, build a reputation, go international and test the waters. As a result, production quality, creativity and art went skyrocketing; the consumers benefited from the competition obtaining courtly designs that make show stopping outfits.
The other thing that helped popularize the traditional Ghana fashion is the public figures. Although, in Ghana it is not a wonder to see the President rocking the look, most people only considered this native and hence there was less to copy. However, when international personalities, politicians, celebrities and entertainers got to be interested in this wear, the world found this cool; this is the silent power of influence. The more they were spotted in African wear fabric the more the designs got highly demanded for. In response to this demand bulk production was achieved and enormous sales as a result thereof. The young people today are more than willing to become fashion designers; this is an already booming industry to watch – traditional African wear.
Clearly, the African setup is utterly rich in heritage. There are more than the above listed amazing designs for the traditional African wear. Surprising beautiful designs keep coming up, with conceptualization of new ideas and the customer different preferences that bring a lot of adjustments in the industry. This just serves to treat the customer better with varied options at their disposal. This has made the industry popular with many people desiring to go back to their roots after much westernization. I think the up to minute trend is going eastern as even the whites imperatively have embrace the culture from the West Africa precisely Ghana. It is now time to serve you with any of the wonderful traditional Ghana fashion.
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