Making and wearing West African clothing is considered a celebration of ethnic history. Africa’s ancient and unique style of garments speaks of comfort and ease. Though originally designed for the continent's hot climate, the clothing is now worn in a variety of temperatures as everyday or special occasion attire, providing a sense of freedom and ease of movement for the wearer.
Designing West African Clothing
Start by selecting a brightly colored, bold print cloth pattern. Silk is traditional but organic cotton also works well. Cotton brocade with woven designs may be used as well as hand-loomed Aso Oke fabrics, Damask and lace.
Lay out pattern, according to directions printed on the pattern paper, for the dishiki, kanga, caftan or headscarf. Pattern makers have kaftan and wrap skirt patterns that can be adapted to African attire. Pin pattern to material and cut.
Machine or hand sew seams according to pattern instructions. African clothing can be decorated with intricate embroidery or a heavy brocade. A matching scarf is always appropriate with any traditional African garment.
Wearing West African Clothing
Place your legs shoulder-width apart and hold the kanga skirt behind your back. Make sure the embroidered ends are on your right. Tuck the left side to the right side with the top sticking out at the waist above the tuck. Wrap the right side toward the left side and pull the left and right ends toward the back. Tie the ends together in a tight knot. Adjust the bottom edges so they are even. They can be left long or tucked up short.
To wrap headgear fold the scarf to the width of about six inches. Wrap it around your head with right side longer than left side by about one half. Push in the left side while keeping both ends out. Cross the right side over the top of the left while keeping the right-side ends out. Pull both ends to adjust for comfort. Push in the right side only from where it touches the left side. It will look like a bow. Move it to where you want to wear it, front, right or back. Spread out the ends to get a petal look.
The Dashiki is a unisex garment and can be worn by both men and women. It can be worn with pants as a two piece outfit. A man's three piece outfit includes the dashiki, pants and a hat. A four piece formal outfit is the buba, pants, hat and flowing agbada.
Allene Reynolds has been a freelance writer for more than 30 years and has written both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in several national magazines, regional publications and major newspapers.