Clothing in Africa

Other than Liberia in the West and Ethiopia in the East of Africa, every other African nation was under colonisation for the better part of the 20th century. The European colonisers brought with them modern fashion trends and modern clothing which somehow has replaced the traditional African wear. Some nations and their residents, still continue with some of the traditional wear.

North of Africa:

Egypt, in particular, have styled traditional women’s clothing, mostly influenced by Middle Eastern culture. The Jelabiya is an embroidery that is similarly worn in the Gulf states.


The Northwest Africans are however less influenced by foreign elements.

West of Africa:

The Dashiki

In most parts of the West of Africa as well as the Sahelian Africa, the dashiki is the most prominent attire. It is highly stylized and is rendered with an ornate V-shaped collar.

The Horn of Africa:

The attire varies by country. In Ethiopia for instance, men wear the Ethiopian suit and women wear the habesha kemis. In Somalia, men wear the khamis with a small cap called a koofiyad or taqiyah.

East of Africa:

The kanzu is a traditional dress worn by Swahili men. The clothing serves as the national costume of Tanzania and the Comoros. Women on the other hand, wear the kanga and the gomesi. The Swahilis are mostly found around the coast of Kenya and Tanzania.

Kanzu (Islamic wear), courtesy of Nuria

South of Africa:

Distinctive shirts are worn, like the long dresses they wear. South Africa is known for the Madiba shirt, while Zimbabwe is known for the safari shirt.

Nelson Mandela Madiba shirt

Modern Clothing:

Non-profit-making organizations in the western societies, sell used clothes to for-profit companies in Africa. These clothes are quite common in some parts of the African continent. This used clothing is called Mitumba. The mitumba is surrounded by controversy, by the fact that critics point to it as a threat to local clothing manufacturers. They also complain that it exploits consumers, argued that this used clothing provides useful competition for often expensive and low quality local products.

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