The perspective of African Fashion I had before I ever saw an African woman in a traditional clothing, was a total distortion of reality. In my mind animal print, wooden accessories, white light shirts and khaki shorts constituted the African style. In Ghana though you will barely see someone dressed in these, while the white clothes are easily getting stained by the mud.
From the very first time I saw a woman in African dress out of my trotro window, I was drawn by the lively colours and designs. I soon learnt that those dresses were made from scratch according to the personal preference of the owner. Then it dawned on me: I would make my own authentic Ghanian fashion collection! On this article, I share some tips for the fashion lovers..
Step one: you select the cloth. It is produced by ghanian factories and is wax printed.
You can find it literally in every corner. Women are selling it on the streets or in shops. At the malls it is posible to find more refined fabric by famous brands such as Vlisco, which costs three times more than the common one. The price range varies based on the quality of the fabric and the saling spot. A usual price is 7 to 10 ghanian cedis ( 1,74- 2,48 euros) per yard. The total fabric comes in 6 yards and the most luxurious ones, which are destined for special occasions, are not sold in pieces. But in most cases you can select the size of the garment. 3 yards are adequate to make a short dress or a skirt with a top.
The predominant colours are vivid green, red, orange, fuchsia, blue, yellow. Leaves, hearts, seeds, african signs, and adsent designs are printed on the fabrics. A friend of mine, who is keen on the darker colours was observing the side of a store where the dark brown, black and purple fabrics were stored. A nice lady approached us and said spontaneously: ” we only wear these colours in funerals”. The lady was not exaggerating at all. I honestly saw dark dressed people only in funerals.
One of my favourite print is called “Angelina” and is very popular in Ghana. Another is named “Eye of the tiger”. The fabric feels rough at first but it softens after multiple washes. The traditional Ghanian textile, Kente is actually silk and cotton fabric made of interwoven cloth strips and requires a lot of work. In the rest Westafrican countries, I was informed that they have similar prints, but the texture of the fabrics is a little different.
Recently, I read an interesting article that describes the history of the African fabrics and reveals the Dutch origin of the wax prints: “African Fabrics”: The History of Dutch Wax Prints.
My fabric paradise was located a quarter away from our interns house, in Madina Market. Much as I was apalled by the first central Market, I fell in love with this one. Frequently after school I was heading to Madina Market in order to get lost in the colourful streets with the peculiar objects. The fabrics were always my personal favorite. I was often being told off by my Botswana friend because I spent all of my money in cloth. I kept replying grinning that “the way I see it is not a waste of money rather an investment”. Once I was so concentrated on my shopping that I forgot that it would get dark soon. That night I saw my Market more beautiful than ever, calm and easy in the dim light of the lanterns…
Step two: you have to decide on the exact design. The web gives you the opportunity to go through countless african fashion choices until you feel dizzy. Most of my decisions are attributed to Pinterest. Other relevant sites, like Africa fashion-week ny, are very enlightening too. The tailors also have big posters on the wall with many different designs, which are a little too traditional for me. The following pictures depict some of my favourite african outfits, which I tried to imitate.
Step three: you need to find a good tailor. Just like the fabric selling stores, the taylor shops are numerous in the streets. I advice you to ask your local friends for their recommendation on the issue. The tailor will take your measurements and create the clothing of your choice. That way you will add a unique piece in your garderobe! I was so excited about this freedom. Personaly, I had a failure before I found the tailor of my life, Isaac. Firstly, a lady came at school and we assigned her to sew three different cloths, which eventualy were neither delivered on time nor fitting to us.
The second tailor, whom the other teachers at school introduced to me, was Isaac. His workshop is in the porch of his house, near the school. However, it is hidden in a mystic neighbourhood, in whose paths I was lost more than once. His expertise are in my opinion the dresses, while he can make almost anything if you give presice description. Our collaboration resulted in four skirts, five dresses, a pair of shorts and a top. He is taciturn and very collaborative. If the skirt was tighter or the dress longer than I wanted, he’d amend it at the same minute, not looking annoyed at the slightest. The payment of the tailor depends again on his popularity, the difficulty of the design and the quantity of the cloths you are making. The more the cheaper. Indicatively, most of my dresses cost from 20-30 ghanian cedis (=4,97- 7,45 euros) to sew.
After the final stage the African clothes are ready to wear! I did not mind so much whether a white girl in african traditional fabric was a weird spectacle, or not. I wore my first dress as soon as I got home from the tailor. Apparently I did look weird but the Ghanians in the streets gave me looks of approval, laughing benevolently at the same time. When I showed up at school in an African dress I received a rain of compliments : “Lilly, I like your dress”! Frankly, there is no better fashion critic for me than my five year old students.
My africanfashion-mania was obvious even at my last minute in Ghana, as I was runnig at the tailor to receive my final pieces on my way to Kokota airport.