Africa is a huge continent with numerous cultures and thousands of different tribal groups, each with their own traditions and languages. Thus, a topic such as "African clothing" includes many diverse types of garments. In addition, the clothing worn is also greatly influenced by the people's daily activities and their climate. The traditional African cottons and silks are made from natural or organic fibres and are highly durable and often very colourful.
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Anthropologists believe that the first clothing was worn in Africa about 75,000 years ago. Most likely, animal leather and fur were used for loincloths and fur coverings for the body. Depending on geographical location, feathers and shells were used for the earliest adornment, such as jewellery. In tropical areas, cloth was made from the inner bark of trees, such as the fig. The bark was beaten with a wooden hammer, rock or bone until soft. Then separate layers were overlapped into larger sheets, dried and decorated.
Africans continue to make many traditional clothes from centuries ago, although designers may sometimes add modern elements. One of the more well-known garments from Nigeria that is worn for special events is called "Aso Ilu Oke," also known as "Aso-Oke" or "Aso-Ofi." In this case, the material is woven on a loom. Then the separate panels are sewn side-by-side, similar to quilting. The women's Aso Ilu Oke includes a "blousy" shirt, a wrap-around skirt, a head tie and a shawl.
A very popular men's, and more recently unisex, garment from Africa is called the "danshiki" or "dashiki." This long shirt, with or without sleeves, normally extends to the upper thigh and is embroidered or decorated with a variety of prints, especially around the neckline. Men often wear it with a brimless "kufi" hat.
African clothes are known for their variety of decorative prints and bright colours. The "kaftan" or "kaftan," for example, is a long garment with or without sleeves that is now mostly worn by women. In earlier history, however, African men normally wore the garment. Researchers also report that ancient Egyptians, such as Cleopatra, wore decorated silk kaftans. The term "kaftan" has become a generic word, and is used throughout Africa and other parts of the world.
Traditional South African Dress
The women who wear the traditional dress of the South African Xhosa people drape a shawl or blanket over their shoulders with a long skirt that sometimes is adorned with braiding. Their heads are covered with a turban that is loosely wound. For special events, the dress may be decorated with bead work.
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