- Most African people wear Western-style
clothing, and only don traditional
clothing on special occasions.
- Early missionaries of the 19th century established schools and
introduced Western clothing to the African people. Many Masai
women, for example, adopted the Victorian-style
dress of the early German missionaries.
- European traders brought imported cloth, linens, silks,
cottons, etc. to trade to Africans, which eventually began to
replace the trade of African cloth. This came about for a variety
of reasons. African cloth was made primarily for the weavers'
personal and familial use, and occasionally for trading with other
African groups. Such handmade production was much slower and could
not keep up with the growing demand for quickly produced clothing.
Another reason the use of African cloth diminished was the simple
fact that it was narrower than the customary width of European
cloth and as such was not a very sought-after commodity. Western
clothing is also more durable and holds up better to wear.
- In recent years, around 40 million Africans have left their
small villages and families to work in large towns and cities
(shops, homes, factories). These cities established by European
and other foreign conquerors have gradually been attracting
residents from the countryside, and are now modern, bustling
- The temperature in places near the Sahara Desert can get up to
125 degrees, so many women go topless. This is similar to how
Americans wear short and tank tops in hot climates.
- Men wear Western-style clothing in Mali because it is the
cheapest clothing available. Organizations such as Deseret
Industries and other thrift stores, church groups and humanitarian
projects sell clothes to many Africans very inexpensively
($.02-.03 for a shirt, $.05 for pants in some places).
- Bright, imported cloth is very expensive.
- Some African rituals and special life events calling for
special clothing are:
- Engagement rituals: Kuanyama women participate in an
engagement/coming to womanhood ritual for which they wear showy
- After Masai women are married, they wear more beaded collars
and are then allowed to wear brass earring (similar to a wedding
- When West African women get married, they wear large,
elaborate head ties.
- A Zulu boy courting a girl will wear Western clothing bought
in the city, and a goatskin front apron
that is tied with a beaded belt.
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