Women and fashion and clothing are inseparably linked since time immemorial. The traditional clothing worn by the women of Africa are often vibrantly colored to counter the almost monochromatic landscape of the country. The traditional garments though, in recent times have gone through modifications and alterations Western culture has influenced the traditional fashion and now there’s a mix and match of western and traditional that women in Africa are embracing, which at first were introduced by Nigerian colonists.

Styles of traditional women’s pink thongs, which are seen in Northeastern Africa, especially in Egypt have been influenced mainly by the Middle Eastern culture. This is mainly exemplified by the Jelabiya, which is simple embroidery and mainly worn in the Gulf States. African clothing for women is less influenced by foreign elements in the Northwest Africa, and hence has maintained more originality over the years. Some dresses that are common in the northwestern part of Africa are The Djellaba, the Dashiki, the Grand boubou, and the Senegalese kaftan. In Sahelian Africa, women wear head ties. Of all the varieties the Dashiki is the most stylish and is most commonly identified with an ornate v shaped collar. The grand boubou is simpler in contrast though it is named grand. The djellaba is a bit flashier with impressive color designs and are mostly seen worn by the tuareg, who are famous for using dyed indigo robes which are absolutely beautiful.

In East Africa, women wear the kanga and the gomesie, and in Ethiopia the women wear the habesha kemis. Africa is a large continent and the dressing pattern and color preferences vary and differ, so the African clothing for women has an interesting array of designs, color combinations, drapes and embroideries which is quite different from the Western world or even the rest of the globe. The culture and history that is an integral part of the horn of Africa is alive for the past three thousand years, and the uniqueness is found in their art and architecture, cuisine, literature and music. But the most distinctive mark of the region is found in the dresses worn by the women of Africa, mainly represented in Eritrean and Ethiopian clothing styles.

The African clothing for women depends on the various factors like the region one is coming from, the languages they speak, the faith that they practice, and the climate of the region. Mostly unassuming and muted colors are found in the traditional dresses worn by the highland Christian peasantry and are made of comfortable cotton fabrics that can tolerate the heat of the region. The Ethiopian and Eritrean clothing and dressing pattern of the Muslims residing in the highlands contrast with those of the Christian peasantry. The dull and unimposing whites are abandoned completely and are replaced by warm and vibrant colors. Red, yellow, purple etc are the primary colors amongst a host of colors that the women of this region prefers. One will also find beaded leather dresses and garments, bright cotton wraps etc. Though much of the culture in the Horn of Africa has also been influenced by western clothing and fashion design, but still for most festivals and traditional holidays, Ethiopians and Eritreans alike prefer their traditional garments. Modern fashion designers have explored Ethiopian clothing and Eritrean clothing, which are widely similar, and the traditional colors, borders, beads and fabrics have been integrated into contemporary dresses worn by the women in the Horn of Africa.

Author's Bio: 

The author of this article, Nash Jeo, is a fashion designing student in the US, and has done extensive research on African clothing for women, as his graduating subject.