By September 30, 2023No Comments

THE AFRICAN USE OF FASHION TO DENOTE LIFE STAGESThere is a saying that states that one should dress the way he wants to be addressed. This saying has been perfected in all ramifications by the African culture. As we all know, a people’s culture is their way of life, and one cannot discuss the African culture without discussing modest dressing. In over 3,000 tribes, Africans all have a diverse unique form of dressing that has thrilled spectators from other regions. But this article won’t just shed light on the astonishing dressing of the African people, this Article will discuss five African tribes that are known for the practice of using clothing or fashion to denote age, Achievement, and life stage. Learning about this tribe will unravel to readers, what dressing and fashion mean to the African people, and it will pass the wisdom and knowledge that can only be heard through the lips of a geriatric African.


The Yoruba tribe of Nigeria is not just known for their exorbitant love for parties and ceremonies, but also for how they portray themselves in their ceremonies. Based on the particular choice of clothing a Yoruba person puts on, you could tell if the person is married or single, you could guess the age and even guess his age group and family. Here are a few examples.

Aso Oke and Gele for Celebrations

In Yoruba culture, special occasions like weddings, naming ceremonies, and milestone birthdays are marked by wearing elaborate and colorful traditional attire made from Aso Oke fabric. For women, the Gele, a headwrap, is intricately tied to complement the outfit. The style shape, and color of the Gele can signify the person’s age, marital status, or social status, while the Fila made also from Aso oke for the men, when worn on the right, or the left, can tell the marital status of a man.

Iro and Buba for Young Girls:

Young girls often wear Iro (wrapper) and Buba (blouse) as a symbol of their youth and innocence. These garments are typically made in bright colors and playful patterns, distinguishing them from the attire of older women. Also as Yoruba girls mature into adulthood and marriage, their Iro and Buba become more modest, with longer lengths and subdued colors. The fabric, style, and pattern of tying the Iro also change or signify their new role as wives and mothers.


Beadwork, Accessories, and hairstyles

Beadwork, including necklaces, waist beads, and bracelets, is an integral part of Yoruba fashion. Different bead colors and patterns of wearing them can signify various stages of life, from childhood to adulthood and even marital status. Hairstyle is also an internal part of the Yoruba people. For example, Kojusoko (meaning “face your husband”) is not only known for distinguishing between genders, but also for describing women. The hairstyle expresses not just discipline and values but also expresses gender roles. To that end, any man putting on the hairstyle was to be mercilessly dealt with. Also, the Yoruba hairstyle expresses spiritual connotations. For example, there is traditional importance to the loose state of the hair of a mourning Yoruba woman. Apart from this, there are other modes of dressing such as Aso Ebi,(family Cloth) and other traditional attire, that is used to denote age and other aspects of life.


Scarification and Body Painting

Dinka people practice scarification, where intricate patterns of scars are etched onto the body, especially the forehead, as a rite of passage and to signify various stages of life. For Females, the marks represent puberty and are given to them after their first menstruation. Body painting with natural pigments is also common during ceremonies and celebrations, with different patterns and colors holding specific meanings.


The Dinka tribe wears little to no clothes, traditionally, adult males could walk around completely naked, while females wore clothes made from animal skins to cover up sensitive parts of the body. later though, the Dinka tribe adopted the clothing style of many other tribes in Sudan, and they dressed in an ankle-length, long-sleeved coat that are most time made without a button. These clothes are made with fabrics made from animal skin, and an individual’s ability to get them, portrays just how successful the individual is.

Beadwork and Jewelry

Beadwork is the most essential part of Dinka fashion, and the design and placement of beads can signify age, marital status, and even a person’s role within the community. For instance, the Dinka traditional attire includes a beaded corset that serves as an indicator of gender, age, wealth, and ethnic affiliations. The colors of the beads vary depending on the age of the wearer; young Dinka between 15 and 25 years old wears a corset made of red and black beads. The use of pink and purple are for a man between 25-30 years old; while yellow beads are worn by those over 30 years old. Many combinations, including blue, green, white, black, and red are frequently used. Dinka corsets were used by both men and women. The women often decorated their corsets with cowry shells. They have a loose bodice style and when worn, they are wide and hang from the neck like a large necklace. Young girls would wear a tight corset with a projection in the back, like the men’s. This corset would remain on her until cut open at her wedding. The height of the corset’s back portrays the wealth of the person wearing it. The higher the back, the more influential the person.BAGISU TRIBE OF UGANDA


The Bagisu Tribe of Uganda practices male circumcision as a rite of passage, known as Imbalu This is the foremost and most important practice of the Bagisu tribe, and through this practice, maturity and chivalry are being measured, and only those who are circumcised are seen as eligible to get married, no matter their age. After circumcision, young Bagisu men wear special clothing and adornments to distinguish themselves from uncircumcised boys known as Basinde. Even mature men who lived abroad and were not circumcised were seen as “immature basinde” until they joined the imbalu, and became circumcised.THE AFRICAN USE OF FASHION TO DENOTE LIFE STAGES



(Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso): The Senufo people, the brains that the famous Mudclothes are attributed to. They have a tradition of wearing masks and costumes during various ceremonies, which can represent different age groups and roles within the community. Before a child grows to the state of becoming an elder in his community, he must go through different stages of initiation, and that is characterized by the association he belongs to and also the masks he becomes. They include the Poro society, the Sandogo society, the double-headed Wanyugo mask, the Kponyugu, the Kpelie mask, etc. These costumes are used in initiation rites and other cultural events, and through this mask, various life stages of the Senufo men can be easily identified.


Yes, there are African tribes that have specific clothing traditions based on age or life stages. One notable example is the Xhosa people in South Africa. Among the Xhosa, individuals wear different clothing styles and accessories to signify their age and stage in life. Here’s a general breakdown:

Initiation and Coming-of-Age Rites

The Xhosa tribe has a well-known initiation rite called “Ulwaluko” for young men, marking their transition from boyhood to manhood. During this time, initiates wear a specific attire known as “Ibhayi,” which includes a loincloth, a headpiece, and beads. Uninitiated boys typically wear modern clothing, but during the initiation period, they switch to this traditional attire, signifying their changing status.

Ibayi (Beaded Necklaces skirts and Jewelry)

Beaded jewelry, including necklaces and bracelets, is an essential part of Xhosa fashion for both men and women. The colors and patterns of the beads can convey various messages about the wearer. Specific beadwork designs may signify achievements, family lineage, or social standing within the community. For example, Among the Thembu people of Xhosa, after circumcision, the men wear a new kind of skirt, turbans, and a wide bead collar. A waistcoat, long necklaces, throat bands, armbands, leggings and belts. The dominant colors in the beadwork are white and navy blue, with some yellow and green beads symbolizing fertility and a new life. For the young women, they wear another kind of beaded skirt like that of the Inkciyo of the Pondo people of the Xhosa clan the beads are turquoise and white. This skirt is worn during a virity testing ceremony among Xhosa people undergoing their rites of passage into womanhood. And for kids, Impempe is a whistle that has a necklace on it. The whistle symbolizes one’s introduction to adolescence.

Ityalalipasi (Dress)

Xhosa women traditionally wear a garment called “Ityalalipasi” or “Imibhaco,” which is a two-piece dress consisting of a skirt and a matching top. The design and color of the dress may vary but Xhosa women have a custom of wearing red blankets dyed with red ochre, the intensity of the color varying from tribe to tribe. But how they are worn depends on factors like age, marital status, and personal preferences. For example, young girls and unmarried women often wear wraps tied around their shoulders, leaving their breasts bare. Engaged women redden their plaited hair and let it screen their eyes, as a sign of respect for their fiancés. Xhosa married women wear some form of headdress or scarf to cover their heads as a sign of respect to the head of the family, just like the Zulu women wear their isicholo. This family head could either be their father or husband. Also married Xhosa women wear long aprons over their dresses known as isikhakha, which are decorated with black bias binding, then, over the whole outfit they wear a cloak made from the same material. Elderly Xhosa women are allowed to wear more elaborate head coverings because of their seniority. These are just a few ways the tribe uses fashion to denote life stages


Fashion is an integral part of the human experience. Through fashion one can express deep-seated emotions and effectively express the aesthetics of life. But for Africans, fashion serves not only as a form of personal expression, but also as a means of conveying one’s identity, social status, age and stages of life, participation in important life events, and other life achievements, such as the chieftaincy titles of the igbo tribe of Nigeria, and the accessories and clothing that are particulate to such achievements. These traditional practices continue to be an integral part of African society, and even as the society evolves, and globalization continues to erode the African culture, these practices will continue to be seen in the clothes we create, because no matter the tribe, we are Africans, and our heritage must survive.








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