Meanings of African Clothing

Meanings of African Clothing: An African Should Know

African clothing and printed material are worn with great pride and pleasure, particularly on special occasions. Unfortunately, the wearers of these clothes don’t know the meanings of their clothing, the significance of the prints and colors they wear.

It’s not uncommon to find African fabrics in bright colors, wacky designs, and hand-made patterns which are in themselves symbols of their rich culture. Is there more than this about contemporary African fabrics that the Africans ought to know? Let’s find out.


According to the convention, African clothes are worn for weddings, family reunions, and such events. African fabric is part of cultural identity and shows cultural heritage. Here are some fabrics that are worn by different groups of Africans for a variety of occasions:


Printed and dyed, this cotton fabric is widely worn at weddings and family events. It is manufactured in just three colors—red, blue and brown.


This African print is worn in Nigeria. Originally made by the Dutch for the Indonesians, the tribal patterns appealed to the Nigerians.


The Baoule is worn in Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa. It is woven in strips of fabric measuring five inches. The strips are put together and sewn to create a thick and heavy fabric. It shows the cultural identity of the Africans, and so is worn with great pride. Shoes, bags, and dresses are made for women from this material and shirts for African men.


In Zambia, East Africa, the Chitenge or Kitenge is worn just like a sarong. Women wear it wrapped around the waist or chest and then as a headscarf of a baby sling. Kitenges are quite like the kangas worn by both men and women.


The Kente garment of Ghana, West Africa, is distinctive for being in vibrant shades. It has a variety of designs and patterns made on a blend of silk and cotton fabric called “nwentom.” Initially made in green and yellow, it can now be seen in a range of colors and designs with the trademark Kente pattern.

Colors and designs

African fabrics are woven in designs that speak of their culture and tradition. So, they aren’t so much into making fashion statements, but you will notice that the colors, shapes, and symbols of the fabrics are there for a purpose.

They also prove one’s loyalty to one’s tribal roots. With so much printed and woven into their fabrics, African clothing deserves a closer look. Let’s look at the significance of the colors they use:

  • Red: Tension in the political world or spiritual is expressed as red, as in blood.
  • Blue: A color known for serenity, love, and peace; it is a symbol of the sky.
  • Gold: This color is a symbol of fertility, wealth, and social status.
  • White: As in most cultures, here too white symbolizes spirituality and purity.
  • Green: This shade is regarded as a symbol of life and prosperity.

From the above, one thing is clear: choosing an African dress is all about cultural pride rather than showing off a flattering style.


African clothing has deep-seated symbolism that must be interpreted along with the tribes they belong to, their geographical locations and the colors they are available in. Only then can they be wholly understood in the context in which they are worn.

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