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South African Traditional Wedding Dress
The Xhosa culture has a complex dress code informed by a person’s social standing, and features beautiful beadwork and printed fabrics. Traditionally, women’s clothing and accessories show the different stages of life.
Their main items of clothing include long skirts and aprons in beautiful printed or embroidered fabrics. Elaborate beaded necklaces called ithumbu are worn around the neck, as well as beaded bracelets and anklets. The iqhiya or headscarf is traditionally worn by married women. To complete the ensemble, embroidered capes or blankets are worn around the shoulders.
Xhosa men traditionally filled the roles of warrior, hunter and stockman and as such, animal skin formed an important part of their traditional wear. On special occasions embroidered skirts are worn with a rectangular cloth over the left shoulder, or a tunic and strands of beaded necklaces.
In Zulu culture, women also wear different attire at different stages of their lives. A single young woman wears her hair short and only a short grass-reed skirt embellished with beads, while engaged women will cover their breasts and grow their hair.
A married woman covers her entire body to indicate that she is spoken for. She wears a thick cowhide skirt that has been softened with animal fat and charcoal. Traditionally, women covered their bosom with a cloth, but nowadays cotton vests or beaded bras are worn along with beaded necklaces.
The most iconic adornment are circular-shaped hats called izicolo, which are worn by married women. These hats were traditionally made of grass and cotton and measured as much as a metre across to protect the wearer from the sun.
Zulu men traditionally wear animal skins and feathers. Because the Zulu revere leopards as the king of all predators, only royalty are allowed to wear leopard skin. A front apron (isinene) and a rear apron (ibheshu) are worn to cover the genitals and buttocks. The tufts of a cow’s tail called amashoba are worn on the upper arms and below the knees to give the appearance of greater bulk. Headbands are only worn by married men.
The Ndebele tribe are renowned for their intricate beadwork and brightly coloured homes painted in striking geometric designs. The main element of Ndebele women’s wear is an apron. Girls wear small beaded aprons, while older girls wear isiphephetu, a beaded apron given to them by their mothers, and isigolwani which are thick beaded hoops worn around their necks, arms, legs and waist.
Married women wear longer aprons made of hardened skin that are lavishly decorated in geometric designs. They also wear isigolwani and copper rings called idzilla around the neck, ankles and arms. Girls and unmarried women traditionally do not cover their breasts, whereas married women cover their upper bodies with blankets in multi-coloured stripes or beaded designs.
Ndebele men wear animal skin aprons and beaded breast-plates or iporiyana which hangs from the neck. The iporiyana is a symbol of manhood and is given to a young man by his father after he has undergone initiation. Animal skin headbands and ankle bands are also worn along with a cape.
Venda girls traditionally wear a shedo, a small apron which covers the pubic area. When girls develop breasts, they wear a nwenda at the waist or around one shoulder, which is made from brightly coloured striped fabric. Beaded necklaces, bangles and headbands are also worn.
Venda boys and men traditionally wore a loin-cloth called a tsindi. The tsindi is a triangular piece of animal skin covering the front, passed between the legs and tied at the back. In colder weather, they also wore a cloak over their shoulders. Today Venda men often wear shirts made from nwenda fabric paired with trousers.
The Tsonga-Shangaan tribe is an offshoot of the Zulu tribe and are mainly found in southern Mozambique and the northern provinces of South Africa. Traditionally, Tsonga men wear animal skins, while the women wear beads and colourful gathered skirts called xibelani, which shake when they dance.
Indian South Africans have always preserved their cultural heritage, languages and religious beliefs, being either Christian, Hindu or Muslim. Western clothing is worn from day to day, while traditional Indian dress such as beautiful embroidered saris and sherwanis are usually reserved for special occasions like weddings.
Cape Malay refers to an ethnic group who were brought to South Africa from South-East Asia during the slave trade. In Cape Town, the Cape Malay community is predominantly Muslim. Like Indian South Africans, Cape Malay people wear mainly Western clothing in everyday life and their traditional attire to mosque, madrassah and for special celebrations.
Types of African clothing
Nowadays, there are two types of African clothing. There is traditional African clothing and Modern African clothing usually referred to as African fashion.
As Africa is a big continent made up of different countries, different kinds of people, culture, languages, food, clothing etc, we would cover only the popular African clothing for now.
Traditional African clothing
It seems most of the Traditional African attires we see and hear of today are from the Western part of Africa such as Ghana and Nigeria.
Aso oke: people usually refer to aso oke, as the traditional Yoruba women’s garment. It consists of four parts:
- Buba – Yoruba blouse
- Iro – a wrap skirt
- Gele – head tie
- Iborun or Ipele – shawl or shoulder sash
Aso oke hat: is a traditional Yoruba hat that is made of hand woven African fabric.
Boubou or bubu: is one of the names for a flowing wide sleeved robe. This can be worn by both male and female. It also known as kaftan but this refers more to female boubou.
kaba and slit :This is a long wraparound skirt and matching blouse made from African wax print or cloth. Skirts usually have a pair of strings in the waist which is drawn together to fit the waist but normal zips could be used instead.
Dashiki: The dashiki is a colourful garment for men that covers the top half of the body. It has formal and informal versions and varies from simple draped clothing to fully tailored suits. Some also have beautiful embroidery around the neck area.
Kaftan/ Caftan: is a loose-fitting pullover garment, with an ornate V-shaped or round collar, and tailored and embroidered neck and sleeve lines.
The Ghanaian smock: is a plaid shirt that is similar to the dashiki, worn by men in Ghana. The smock is also called a fugu or a batakari. It is made of handloomed strips of Kente fabric that are three to four inches in width.
Kufi or kufi cap: is a brimless, short, and rounded cap worn by a lot of people in West Africa
A head tie/ gele is a West and Southern African women’s cloth used to tie the head as part of the African outfit
Kente cloth is a type of silk and cottonfabric made of interwoven cloth strips which originates from Ghana.
The wrapper is a colorful women’s garment widely worn in West Africa. It has formal and informal versions and varies from simple draped clothing to fully tailored ensembles. The formality of the wrapper depends on the fabric used to create it. The wrapper is usually worn with a matching headscarf or head tie that is called a gele.
Modern African fashion
With time, African fashion has been merged with European styles to make it an everyday attire. These types of African outfits could easily be worn to work, parties, even as casual everyday wear. These include African pencil dresses, African print skirts, trousers, jumpsuits, playsuits etc. These African outfits are made using African wax prints or Ankara prints but in modern stylish easy wears.
African dresses: African dresses can be made using only African wax print or with a combination of other types of materials. There are long, maxi African print dresses, Short African print dresses or midi dresses.
This is usually made solely with African wax print or a combination of other types of material. Jumpsuits and playsuits come in a form of trousers but is joined to the top, making a one piece outfit.