With population and size, São Tomé and Príncipe is the second-smallest African country after Seychelles. It is also the smallest Portuguese-speaking country. The people of the country are predominantly of African and mestiço descent, mostly adherents of Roman Catholicism. Till date, the legacy of Portuguese rule is prevalently evident in the country's culture, customs, and music, which fuse European and African influences.
Contrastingly, strategic location in the center of the Gulf of Guinea has been an important factor in the island's history and culture.
The way of life on Sao Tome can be considered to be a rich and exotic blend of traditions passed on from Angolan, Cape Verdean and Mozambican slaves brought over by the Portuguese in the late 1400s to work in the sugarcane fields and later in other plantations.
The traditional wedding dress of the country is very related to that of the Portuguese. The women in this part wear a linen chemise with blue embroidery, a heavy skirt, a woolen apron, a bodice, two kerchiefs (one worn on the head and another around the shoulders), an accessory (separate pocket), knit stockings, and backless slippers. This costume can be very bright and ornate.
The chemise has floral embroidery made with blue threads on the front, sleeves, and cuffs.
The skirt is called “saia”. It is sewn from heavy wool or linen. The skirt can be plain (black, red, green, or blue) or have patterns woven into the background. Often times, red skirts are traditionally worn by young girls or for happy occasions while the married women dons in blue color.
The bodice is called “colete”. It is traditionally sewn from 2 parts – upper matches the skirt and lower is black.
The apron is called “avental”. It is woolen, hand-woven, and has very bright patterns that cover the whole apron.
The pocket is worn as a separate piece attached to the belt. It is called “algibeira”. And usually, it is very pretty – shaped like a heart and adorned with embroidery.
In the reflection of common African fashion style, the couple can also choose to go for the boubou traditional attire. However, the style and design is what differ amongst the two genders.
The boubou is described as the classic Senegalese robe, worn by both men and women all over West and Central Africa. Often sewn from a single piece of fabric, the boubou is usually 59 inches (150 cm) wide and of varying lengths. However, the most elegant style, the grand boubou, usually employs a piece of fabric 117 inches (300 cm) long and reaches to the ankles. Traditionally, custom-made in workshops by tailors, the boubou is made by folding the fabric in half, fashioning a neck opening, and sewing the sides halfway up to make flowing sleeves. Meanwhile, for women, the neck is large and rounded as against the long V-shape for men, which is always with a large five-sided pocket cutting off the tip of the "V."
When this dress is stiffly starched and draped over the body, the boubou creates for its wearer the appearance of a stately, elegant carriage with majestic height and presence. Often times, men do wear the classic boubou with a matching shirt and trousers underneath while women wear it with a matching wrapper or pagne and head-tie.
At traditional weddings in São Tomé and Principe, the groom can decide to look gracious for his special day by rocking in the 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. Nevertheless, 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.
Apparently, 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 also 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.
In furtherance, the bride is elegant and fantastic in her boubou style at the traditional wedding. The boubou style for women is often complemented with a pagne or wrapper, as the understanding may be. The pagne is usually a color attire widely worn in West and Central Africa. It has both formal and informal versions and varies from simple draped clothing to fully tailored ensembles. The formality of the wrapper is usually dependent on the fabric used to create it.
This pagne designates a certain cut (2 by 6 yards) and type (single-sided "Fancy" or double-sided "wax" prints) of cotton textile, especially in francophone West and Central Africa. With its preponderant popularity in much of tropical Africa, the pagne cloth's usage and patterns are used as fashion statement. This pagne is in some similarities with the kikoy and chitenge of East Africa. From the pagne, several outfit styles are created; boubou and even western styled suit. Head wraps, head ties, and skirts are also made from it. Hence, the style and design largely depends on the wearer.
Nevertheless, this can also be in form of kaftan, such that it worn with a head scarf or head tie.