Traditional African Wedding Clothing

Written by ruth mayhew
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Traditional African Wedding Clothing
African wedding attire reflects long-standing cultural norms. (African figure image by drx from Fotolia.com)

There are as many African wedding traditions as there are countries in Africa; however, cultural differences are generally described as being influenced by East Africa or West Africa customs and mores. Traditional wedding clothing for both men and women, therefore, varies according to traditions and customs related to geography, family structure and other cultural norms and practices.

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Special Occasions

In the African diaspora, weddings are the penultimate occasion in uniting two families. Weddings are very elegant, well-attended and revered that showcase spiritual and religious practices and cultural norms laid by various tribes of Africans thousands of years ago. Tribal influence plays an extremely important role in African wedding traditions, so much more than wedding traditions in countries like the U.S. where customs are often borrowed from cultures of other lands.

Clothing for Grooms

In East Africa weddings, the groom wears a three-piece wedding ensemble. The basic piece of the groom’s wedding attire is a kanzu, a long tunic made from elegant brocade fabric in white or beige. Tanzania and Kenyan traditions layer the kanzu with a bisht. A bisht is an ankle-length, loose fitting and lightweight garment typically worn by men of higher social standing and nobility, but it is also very appropriate for the groom to wear a white or beige colour bisht over his kanzu, regardless of the groom’s social standing. In many other cultures, a suitcoat is worn over the kanzu. A kofia, or matching head covering which is similar to a box-shaped hat or pillbox, is the traditional accessory worn by the groom.

Clothing for Brides

The traditional African bride wears a wedding ensemble that consists of a long wrap-around skirt, loose-fitting blouse, shawl and headpiece symbolic of modesty in African tradition. All of the fabric used to create the wedding ensemble is elegant, ornate and crafted from textiles found most appropriate for special occasions such as weddings. Commonly worn by brides of West African tradition, the wrap-around skirt and its matching blouse are the “iro ati bubba”--a two-piece garment crafted from brocade cloth onto which symbols for fertility and longevity are embroidered. The headpiece is made of coordinating or matching fabric, and is an integral part of African traditional attire, for special occasions and everyday wear as well.

Clothing for Party and Guests

In keeping with the African tradition that weddings symbolise the uniting of two families, witnessed by friends and entire tribes, this is an event where guests wear their finest clothing, including certain pieces of clothing specifically reserved for weddings. The key is that weddings are among the most formal of occasions and everyone attending, from the bride to the youngest guest, dons attire befitting members of royalty.

The Influence of Traditional African Wedding Attire

African-American wedding customs borrow clothing and wedding practices from West Africa customs. In the U.S., there are hundreds of boutiques that offer design and consultation for couples who want to create a wedding that borrows West Africa traditions.

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