African Clothing

Photo by Jan Thompson


Author: Melissa Brown

Grade Level: Early Elementary

Background Information: This is a link to some background information.

Objective: Children will correctly identify examples of everyday clothing and special occasion clothing worn in Africa.

Materials needed:


1-The teacher comes to class dressed up in an out-of-the-ordinary outfit &emdash; one that is used for special occasions or under unusual circumstances (pilgrim, dancer, Halloween costume, band uniform, graduation cap and gown, cowboy, Amish, scuba gear, baker, etc). Ask children what occasion you are dressed up for. Stimulate a discussion about what people who didn't know much about the United States might think if they saw a picture of you dressed like that. Would they be likely to think that all Americans dress like that on a normal day? (Yes, because they wouldn't know any better.) Show examples in books, calendars, magazines and photographs of Africans dressed in traditional or showy clothes. (Link to some pictures.) Ask children if they think that all Africans dress like that every day.

2-Explain that most Africans, particularly the men, wear Western-style clothing on a daily basis. (Link to some pictures.) Brainstorm reasons why. Then discuss the reasons the children came up with (making sure to dispel any stereotypes such as: "They wanted to be like Americans." or "They were a 'backwards' people.") Add some reasons of your own to the list and discuss them. (Reasons may include things such as: Western clothing is less expensive. It holds up better to wear. It can be produced faster and more efficiently and thus less expensively. "Modernized" cities are growing and Western clothing is worn predominantly in large cities.)

3-Ask students what special occasions they may "dress up" for. Encourage all types of responses (picture day at school, a wedding, to go to church, to play sports, etc.). Explain that Africans "dress up" in more traditional attire for particular occasions, certain ceremonies, and other special life events. Describe and show picture examples of certain times different African people do this. (The background information gives some examples and links to pictures of these examples).

4-Show picture examples of African people in various types of clothing and ask children whether that picture illustrates every day life or a special occasion. (Again, some examples can be found in the links from background information.) This would be a great place to integrate some children's literature depicting life in Africa, both traditionally and more recently. Each student has a card with "special occasion" on one side and "every day life" on the other. Students hold up their cards with the words that they believe describe the particular picture facing the teacher.

Evaluation: Check to make sure that each students holds up the appropriate card for each picture. If a student has questions or concerns regarding a particular picture, discuss with the class reasons why that particular picture would be considered "every day" or "special occasion."

Extension Activity: Each student makes a 4-page book (or a 4-frame story board) and creates an African "Fashion Show" depicting different clothing Africans may wear and when they would wear them (special occasion or every day life). Be watching for at least 2 illustrations dealing with "every day life" &emdash; men in Western-style clothing, women in dresses, etc. The students may depict clothing used for special occasions, just be sure that they label it as such.



Understanding Africa, E. Jefferson Murphy, Thomas Y. Crowell: New York, 1978.

The First Book of Africa, Langston Hughes, Franklin Watts, Inc.: New York, 1964. (pictures)

Rick Van DeGraff, director of the "Ouelessebougou &emdash; Utah Alliance".

1998 Calendar from the "Ouelessebougou -- Utah Alliance". (pictures)

Material World, Peter Menzel, Sierra Club Books: San Francisco, 1994. (good resource for pictures)


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