10 Times African Fashion Conquered The World

African Fashion has been in the fringes of the world’s attention; it has even been ignored by large sections of the African community for so many years. However, there have been few occasions in which African fashion has held the world’s focus, and in which the world has been remind of just how beautiful African style can be.

These occasions have been like a defibrillator shocking the black community to its senses. The fever is catching on; all across the spheres of life, African styles are becoming more common, and the world is being forced to recognize the beauty in diversity.

This post highlights those important moments; those important milestones for the benefit of future generations.

10 Times African Fashion Conquered The World

1. Queen Elizabeth II In Trinidad And Tobago 2009

For many decades the Queen was the most powerful woman in the world. She was also a fashion icon on a magnitude that the world has never seen. There is no compilation of how many books and articles have been written about her dress sense and her style. She was a woman of impeccable taste in clothes, shoes, bags, and hats. The world always took notice of everything she wore.

That is why the world took notice when in 2009 she made a visit to Trinidad and Tobago wearing a green and black floral dress. The dress itself was styled in her traditional Queenly manner, but the pattern of the prints was unmistakably African.

It was a splash for the media, and a mark of love for the people of the country, a large section of whom are Africans.

2. Beyonce In African Clothes

Beyonce is probably the most influential woman in the world; a heavyweight in music as well as in style and culture. She is one of the highest selling recording artists of all time, and she holds a record of 32 Grammy Awards. Time Magazine named her as one of the 100 women who defined the 21st century.

She has certainly defined African fashion in the eyes of American women of color; her numerous appearances in African clothes have brought attention on the scale that only Beyonce can do. Forbes Africa was forced to write about it; not just in a sense that she looks fabulous but in the sense that she just launched a financial tsunami-African designers are getting rich!

These new rich African designers owe a debt of gratitude to Beyonce, and so do the many black women who now feel a swell of pride as they wear African outfits.

3. Agbani Darego In 2001

In 2001, Agbani Darego became the first black African woman to win the Miss World pageant. That was a pivotal even for people of colour; it brought the world’s attention to African women in a way that had never happened before.

It also brought the Nigerian model fame and recognition which she now uses to champion black African fashion and culture. As a former miss world she has celebrity status, but as the first black African woman in that position, she has a place in history.

Therefore she has the attention of both the fashion world and the history books; and that attention she reflects in African attire, giving the people a taste of black beauty.

4. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala

Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is an illustrious daughter of Africa. She had a 25 year long career at the World Bank, and even rose the No. 2 position in that prestigious organization. She is the first woman and the first African to be the Director General of the World Trade Organization. She is one of the most influential women of this generation.

She has used her influence to display African fashion. It can be said that no other person has done more for African fashion than Ngozi Okonjo Iweala who has never made a public appearance wearing anything other than the traditional West African printed wax, complete with a headgear.

Her numerous daily meetings as a board member to several international bodies and corporations keep these powerful executives and politicians reminded that African fashion is a powerful statement.

5. Hillary Clinton In African Dress 2016

Hillary Clinton is without doubt one of the most influential politicians in the United States, and nobody knows better how to make a powerful statement. She turned heads, and sent cameras flashing when in 2016 she appeared at the wedding of a campaign supporter’s child, clad in a distinctive African dress.

This was a very bold move indeed; it was just around the time of her presidential campaign- a time when she was under scrutiny. The politics of the US can be quite dirty; every move comes under the microscope.

Her dress code, and the intentions it carried came under the microscope, and graced every available screen in the country in what turned out to be the best publicity for African fashion since 2009. Hillary Clinton won over the hearts of the black community with just that move.

Image Credits: Boomplay

6. Michael Jackson In Ivory Coast

The greatest entertainer of the century Michael Jackson was crowned king of the Sanwi Kingdom in Ivory Coast in 1992. Before them he was already the King of Pop. When the King of Pop travelled to this remote African community it made a splash because he was the most popular man in the world, and everything he did made headlines.

Michael Jackson brought vital aid to the locals; he made visits to their orphanages, and made commitments towards their care.

Those commitments may one day be forgotten, but his photos in which he is clad in the traditional royal attire of the Sanwi Kingdom will never be forgotten. The world will never forget how this small African tribe dress. Thanks to MJ!

Image Credits: Harry Wad. Photo taken from Wikipedia

7. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Nobel Peace Prize

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf already made headlines when she became the 24th President of Liberia; a position which also made her the first female head of state in Africa. Her pictures were already circulated throughout the world’s media bringing attention to her, but then in 2011 she became a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Every camera in the world was focused on her, and every camera in the world captured her purple African blouse, complete with a matching headgear; in the common style of the West Africans. She was not alone, also with her was the Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee also clad in traditional attire; celebrating their achievements and their culture.

These big women set a noble example for other African women coming behind them; and they made their marks on the highest stage in the world; making African fashion the focus of the world.

8. Bill Clinton In Ghana 1998

Then US President Bill Clinton made a statement of the brotherhood between his country and Ghana, the most vibrant country in West Africa, when he visited in 1998. This was more than just a visit; it was the most extensive visit by a US president to the country. In that visit he made sure to sample the warmth of the people, its cuisine, and to try on its fashion.

Bill Clinton is such a handsome man; he was always going to look good in whatever clothes he wears.

When he draped on the traditional attire of the Ghanaian chieftains, it immediately became something for the cover of Rolling stone, Time, BBC, CNN, and every other news outlet. The atmosphere; a stadium full of cheering people.

What a moment in history! What a moment for African fashion!

9. Olusegun Obasanjo Inauguration

Nigeria’s return to democratic governance in 1999 was more than just a swearing in of a president. It signaled a golden moment for black Africa; it’s most populous, and most influential country was taking a historic step towards social and economic development.

That event brought all the cameras in the world to Nigeria, and they were all pointed at one man; President Olusegun Obasanjo. His poise, charisma, and oratorical skills were impossible to miss. So was his flowing white agbada, complete with a green embroidered cap.

He ushered in a new dawn for Africa; a period of renaissance; of consciousness and intention. He set the example which other presidents and prominent politicians have continued to follow today; leading to a cultural revival in West Africa, and even among Africans in the diaspora.

10. Akon In A White Kaftan

The American music industry is the biggest in the world, and it is the dream of every music artist to conquer that industry.  In truth, there are many Africans who have done exactly that, but at the cost of abandoning their African identity.

Akon took another route; at the height of his fame he identified himself as an African. He incorporated that into his music, and spelt it out in his lyrics.

When pictures of Akon in a white kaftan broke the internet, it was not just because he was a star; it was because he was breaking the norm. Akon changed the rules; he showed that you can be successful without denying who you are.

What Type Of Clothes Do They Wear In Africa?

Across Africa, there are diverse types of clothes. However, one particular clothing style resonates from north, west, central, and east Africa; the robe. Of course there are many different variants of this style; it takes different forms and patterns as it travels along the continent.

In North Africa; the robe is full length; and the color is plain. This is common among the Arabs on the continent; and it draws a cultural resemblance with the Arabs of the Middle East. However, while the robes are mostly white in the Middle East, they may come in different color variations. The most common material for this polyester.

In West Africa the robe takes on more color. When the question arises “what type of clothes do they wear in Africa?” The proper answer should be “colorful clothes.”

The various tribes in West Africa may not even recognize the similarities in their styles of dress. The Hausa men like to wear a short robe which is then covered with a more elaborate agbada. Depending on the event, it may be plain or designed with elaborate patterns. It may then be completed with a turban or a cap. The women wear a smaller robe which is then accompanied by a shawl.

The Yoruba tribe also wear the agbada on occasion (see picture of Olusegun Obasanjo above); their robes are not usually patterned but they often heavily embroidered. However, they are best known for the Aso Oke which is a hand woven fabric which is unique to this tribe. Yoruba robes are typically lose fitting; but they are traditionally full length.

Benin Republic also has cultural similarities with the Yoruba people, and that is seen in their lose fitting robes. However they are not full length; they may not even reach the knees. They are typically mad of a wide variety of colors; in fact it seems that the Beninese know best how to make colorful designs.

The Igbos also wear knee length, lose robes called Isiagu. They are made of a thick wooly material, and may be patterned with images of lion heads. The colorful patterns are the sole area of the women. They wear blouses and wrappers which are made with many different color combinations. Instead of wrappers they may also wear skirts.

The blouses and wrappers are also popular in the countries of central Africa as well as parts of West Africa such as Liberia. In central Africa; the people of Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea have a similar dress sense, although there is plenty of variety with the Atoghu standing as a case study of its own.

In Mali and Senegal, the men wear robes that are similar; they usually end around the elbows and knees, (see Akon above) and are lose fitting with some modifications. Senegalese and Malian women wear mostly lose fitting gowns and boubous of different colors.

Kenyans have much to teach Africans about fashion; their traditional wears are very colorful and distinctive. It comprises of at least two different pieces of clothing; the first being a tunic which bares the shoulders, and the other a covering like a cape. Depending on the tribe, it may be accompanied by elaborate bead works, which are worn around the neck and on the head.

Image Credits:
Erasmodelavega on Wikipedia.

Which Country In Africa Has The Best Fashion?

Naming a particular country as having the best fashion in Africa is a difficult task. However, the people of Cameroon can be said to have the most distinctive fashion sense in Africa. The Atoghu is the classiest fashion piece that can be found in Africa.

Another thing to take note of is the fact that it is original. An analysis of the Atoghu reveals that it is not a derivative of Arab dress, and neither is there any evidence of it having been influenced by any other culture.

There is a certain ancient feel to this style; as if it is a continuation of an unbroken tradition dating back several centuries.

Therefore, if one country could be pointed as having the best fashion in Africa, then it would be Cameroon.

Further Reading:


African fashion is growing in importance and visibility. Thanks to these champions of culture, the larger African community both home and in diaspora have come to take pride in their culture and identity.

As African dress styles come to into global reckoning, it will have great economic impact for the continent.

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