African clothing can simply be referred to as the traditional clothing commonly worn by the people of Africa. Although different ethnic group throughout the continent really pride themselves in the national piece of clothing used for different occasions, but there are evidently varying styles of dress and type of cloth that play an integral role in giving the garment some touch of fashion. Usually, the fabric reflects the society in general, as well as the status of individuals or groups within the community.
Today, it is rather apparent that African dresses have been greatly replaced or influenced by foreign cultures, in many instances, the colonial imprint or western dressing code. In sequel, the evolution of clothing in Africa tends to pose difficult in being traced due to the poor documentation of actual historical evidence. Nonetheless, pieces of information about African clothing had trickled down to present day of representing the typical African dress.
In Africa, there are three (3) broad types of clothing for men, namely, Dashiki, Kitenge, and Agbada.
From the West Africa to the East Africa, there is a peculiar clothing called Dashiki. This is described as a colorful garment predominantly worn in West Africa. Often referred to as Kitenge in East Africa, it has its dominance for being a staple dress in Kenya, Tanzania, and Somalia. It always cover the top half of the body. Dashiki is usually of formal and informal versions, varying from simple draped clothing to fully tailored suits. However, the commonly worn type is the loose-fitting pullover garment, with an ornate V-shaped collar, and tailored and embroidered neck and sleeve lines.
Coining its name from Yoruba word dàńṣíkí, a borrowed word from the Hausa dan ciki, literally meaning 'shirt' or 'inner garment' (as compared to the outer garment).
Nevertheless, the informal version of dashiki is characterized with an African print or embroidered patterns. But for the formal version, it consists of three types; dashiki suit (dashiki, trouser, and cap); Senegalese kaftan (ankle-length shirt, trouser, and matching cap); and dashiki, trouser, and flowing gown (agbada).
Kitenge, which in plural is termed as ‘vitenge’ is solely from the Swahili land at the coast. For many, the coastal culture is characterized by a traditionally full length clothes to avoid exposing oneself to the world. Kitenge is made off 100% cotton.
An old Kenyan adage says, “if a cloth makes a man, then kitenge makes a woman”. This is however, tantamount to the close relation to the authenticity the fabric exudes when it comes to a proper presentation of a true African man with dignity and self-respect.
Its appealing nature, colorful, and enthused outlook with a true definition of class for those who value self-realization and selfless uniqueness has for time now earned it a title like no other fabric. For maximum attention, the dress has plain silky skirt that is red in color and has green and rust bodice.
Kitenge indeed forms an important part of the East African culture. The fabric has a long-standing history and gives the Eastern African region an identity.
Kitenge forms continuous prints lengthwise with no distinct border lines separating one piece from the adjacent piece. Due to its expressive and colorful appearance with the different colors, patterns, writings and symbols which represent moods, feelings, cultures and traditions of native African people, it is always referred to as ‘communicating textile’. Apart from Kenya where kitenge is solely won, it is also found in Uganda, Tanzania, and Sudan.
The Maasai people of Kenya always dons themselves in dark red kitenge garments to symbolize their love for and their dependence on the earth.
Kitenge is composed of numerous designs that can be used to make kitenge apparels for men at special occasions. With the clothing of kitenge attire to an awe at events, the traditional wear is at the same time showcasing the rich cultural heritage of Africa.
Grand Boubou (Agbada)
This grand boubou is one of the names for a flowing wide-sleeved robe, which is in way related to the dashiki suit.
The garments is however known by various names in different ethnic groups and languages that adopted it from the original babban riga of the Hausa people, agbada in Yoruba, boubou from Wolof, gandora in Tuareg, darra’a in Maghrebi Arabic, but often called grand boubou in African francophone countries.
The grand boubou as a full formal attire is composed of three pieces of clothing: a pair of tie-up trousers that narrow towards the ankles, a long-sleeved shirt, and a wide, open-stitched sleeveless gown worn over these. The three pieces are usually of the same color. However, there is sometimes an exception in an event that the groom wants to be uniquely creative, thereby, the color of the grand boubou might be different from that of the boubou and trouser. The boubou is made from cotton and beautifully embroidered in traditional patterns.
Clearly, there is a set etiquette to wearing the grand boubou, primarily in place to keep the over-gown above the ankles at any one time, in keeping with Islamic traditions of avoiding impurity. This can include folding the open sleeves of the boubou over one's shoulders, normally done while walking or before sitting down, to ensure the over-gown does not rub against the ground, or even by folding/wrapping each side over the other with the hand, narrowing the gown's space toward the ankles. At every Gabonese weddings, it is an outright norm to the men, especially the groom adorably donning in this grand boubou attire.