African Dress Up Ideas

Written by matthew caines
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African Dress Up Ideas
Accessorise your African outfits with extravagant and colourful necklaces. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Whether it's for a themed party, stage production, school project or for a traditional family celebration, there are plenty of diverse African dress-up ideas for you to wear. With the continent's rich and diverse cultures, there is almost no limit to what garments and items you can make and put on. Some of the most striking and impressive outfits include the dress of the Kenyan Masai people and a traditional boubou.

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The Masai People

The Masai people of Kenya are a seminomadic ethnic group that -- according to travel writer Jens Finke -- are one of the most outstanding and impressive-looking groups on the African continent. They are particularly famous for their exotic dancing style and their traditional dress, which is always centred on shades of red. According to the Kenya Advisor website, red represents power, and Masai men are often seen in customary red-checked blankets called shuckas. These blankets are wrapped around the body to cover the torso but reveal the legs, which are left bare save for a pair of sandals on the feet. Make your outfit more traditional by adding extravagant earrings and colourful necklaces. You might also consider flesh-tunnels, which are overly stretched pierced holes that are usually between 10 mm and 20mm across; these can be filled with colourful plugs or metal tubes.

Boubou / Bubu

A boubou -- also known as a bubu -- is the name for a long, flowing wide-sleeved robe worn by men in West and North Africa. A female version of the outfit is known as a kaftan or m'boubou. The garment's history dates back to 13th century Mali and eighth century Ghana, when the countries' people adopted the idea of nobility from the early Islamic Empire. The item itself is collarless, which makes it ideal for the hot and humid conditions of the continent. They are also traditionally made from hand-woven cotton fabrics that are embroidered with elegant and intricate designs.

Other Traditional Items

Danshikis are another example of a traditional piece of African men's wear. These shirts are very long, hanging usually to the upper thigh, and are decorated with embroidered patterns around the neck, arms and waist. Another example is a headwrap, which is also known as a gelee; these are traditionally worn by women and are tied from large pieces of fabric into a small compact wrap knotted closely to the head. Other African items include kente drapes and a Moroccan thobe. See Resources for images of each garment.

Traditional African Masks

Traditional African masks will vary between regions and tribes but are usually handcrafted from wood. These masks are commonly used in religious and social events as a ceremonial centrepiece for costumes, and they often represent the spirits of ancestors or help control the community's good and evil forces. Some masks are carved to appear very humanlike, while others may use elements of nature and the animal kingdom to distort the facial image. You could invest in a mask from an arts seller, although these can be particularly expensive. Instead, make your own out of reinforced cardboard and decorate the front with papier mache and paint.

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