Jamaican costume ideas

Updated February 21, 2017

While many Jamaican's have adopted the western fashion trends, traditional island dress reflecting an African influence is still common. When you think of Jamaican costumes, most think of the Rastafarian culture and dreadlocks topped with a colourful tam. Jamaican dress however, is a diverse blend of a multicultural heritage; colourful, vibrant fabrics, light weight and comfortable for the climate. When thinking of costumes, think vivid colour and flamboyance.

Rastafarian Costume

The preferred fabric of the Rastafarian dress is made of natural fibres. While white is the ceremonial colour, red, green and gold (the colours of the Ethiopian flag) are found in most Rastafarian clothing. T-shirts and tunics, made of cotton or muslin with colourful patterns or tie-dyed, make great Rastafarian costumes. A colourful, crocheted tam, worn over the dreadlocks is a perfect addition. Don't forget sunglasses and leather strapped or rope sandals as a finish.

Tees or tank tops in the tricolour fabrics are often worn by Rastafarian women along with long, colourful cotton tiered skirts. Try a Rasta cornrow wig, held in place with a red, yellow and gold bandanna. Add a pair of sandals, again preferably made with natural fibres such as hemp rope, or leather.

Bob Marley T-shirts for either girls or guys will certainly identify you as Jamaican Rasta.

Carnival Costume

Caribbean Carnival has long been celebrated in the islands and Jamaica is no exception. Carnival costumes, like Mardi-Gras dress, are elaborate. Create masks with feathers, jewels and glitter. Costumes of bright colours, adorned with beads, shells, bones and grasses are festive and designed to be fluid for parading, dancing and celebration. Women's costumes are similar to Las Vegas show girl looks, with tall plumed head pieces and bejewelled bra tops in tropical colours. Males wear Caesar type collar rings and are often bare-chested, wearing shell or bead adorned vests with shorts or 3/4 leg loose fitting bottoms for carnival costumes.

Jonkunnu, a celebration where Jamaicans dress as traditional folk lore characters, is both colourful and flamboyant. One such character "Pitchy Patchy" is dressed in shredded, multicoloured silk strips of fabric from neck to feet. On his head is a cap of feathers with tiny mirrors. Create a costume using one of the many Jonkunnu themed characters.

Traditional Dress Costume

If you'd rather have a more traditional Jamaican costume, design one using the traditional red and white plaids of the island. The women typically wear dresses or skirts of the plaid fabric and tie headbands or kerchiefs of corresponding fabric about their heads. Men wear shirts made of the red and white plaid fabric, along with white trousers and a bandanna about their heads. Top this off with dreadlocks and a jackapple cap for the full Jamaican effect.

Women wear long, loose skirts in bright colours topped off short sleeve blouses. Wear this with a pair of Rastafarian sandals, drape a bright scarf around the head and neck, carry a basket of fruit, add some big gold hooped earrings and you'll be transformed into the traditional Jamaican woman.

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About the Author

A 35-year child care specialist, Laurie Carpenter’s first writing involved scripts for a national award-winning cable program on child care issues. From cradle to grave, she worked for a historical cemetery, handling public relations and historical pieces for newspaper publication. Working towards her master’s degree in education, Carpenter also completed a certificate of journalism program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.