African clothing has changed over time, however, the greatest impact on clothing began in the 20th century as a result of trading with Western countries. Originally, Europeans and Arabs influenced African clothing, especially in the northern regions. The influence of the Arabian culture continues to be seen in the designs, embroideries, and long robes worn by some Africans in their daily lives. Most modern Africans wear Western-styled trousers, shirts, dresses and shoes. Others continue to combine the old with the new, wearing traditional clothing, along with Western styles. Africans living in remote regions wear only traditional clothing that reflect some European contact.
Kaftans, which are also called boubous, are full-length embroidered robes. This garment, which today is mainly worn by East African women, was originally only worn by West African men. Made from cotton or silk, kaftans button down the front. It’s also the traditional female clothing of many countries in West Africa such as Mali, Senegal and Ghana.
African Women's Clothing
Traditional African women’s clothing comes in various styles, prints and colours ranging from earthtones to vibrant indigos. Women’s clothing may include beaded skirts, blankets and veils with elaborate motifs. African women are known for their colourful jewellery, which is made from copper, beads and grasses. Ndebele women, living in South Africa’s Gauteng Province, are noted for wearing colourful traditional clothing adorned with beadwork. Because temperatures can soar as high as 51.7 degrees C in the Sahara Desert, it’s common to see women there going topless.
The African Queen dress, known for its flamboyant designs and styling, is a common traditional garment, showing off a woman's full figure. Tie dye, which continues to be a traditional African dress among young African women today, is characterised by symbols and designs suggesting fertility meanings. Royal African Queen Wear is worn by modern African royalty and is trimmed with braids.
African Men's Clothing
In East Africa, kangas and kitenges are like T-shirts and are often worn around the waist in hot weather. The national dress for Kenyan men is a long-sleeved dashiki shirt, which goes with matching trousers and a kofia (hat). Some men still wear kaftans, although today they're mostly worn by women. Men from Tanzania wear a white robe called a kanzu that has a tassel and a small round cap (kofia), while the Buganda men of Uganda (in east Africa) wear dashiki shirts and a cap for informal events.
Clothing for Special Occasions
Africans continue to wear special clothing for various African rituals and special events. For example, at engagement ceremonies and rituals celebrating a girl entering womanhood, Kuanyama women wear showy clothing. Following a marriage ceremony women have more beads on their collars and wear brass earrings, comparable to wedding rings. Western African women getting married wear large elaborate head ties. Zulu boys courting girls don Western clothing they buy in the city, along with a goatskin front apron tied to a beaded belt.
The Zulus of South Africa
The Zulu people of South Africa are known for wearing leopard skins and brightly coloured feathers with the bishop’s feathers adorning their headdresses. Traditional clothing for a herd boy includes a loin cloth, bearded necklaces and hoops. Young Zulu maidens are noted for their beaded dancing costumes, which they wear during ceremonies and festivals. Special clothing is worn by Zulu diviners to charm snakes.