Africa is the world’s second largest continent with 54 countries so fashion trends are diverse and vary from coast to coast.
Traditional African clothing, such as dashiki and kaftan, and modern African print clothing are different styles compared to other parts of the world and are often inspired by: culture, languages, wildlife, nature, food and music.
There are also many general trends used in African fashion that are also popular around the world. They often re-emerge from season to season including florals, African prints and bright colours.
While African fashion has always been bold and beautiful, this blog will explore African clothing trends for 2020 and how you can incorporate African clothing into your wardrobe.
Adding statement puffy sleeves, such as bell and trumpet shapes, to dresses and blouses are fun, chic, elegant, girly and sophisticated.
They are a great way to get noticed and make a fashion statement if you go for a loud and dramatic sleeve like large frills and ruffles. For a more simple, softer and feminine look go for bishop style sleeves.
When wearing statement sleeves it is recommended to keep the rest of your look minimal and classic so that you do not attract attention away from the sleeves and look overly fussy.
Off The Shoulder
The ‘off the shoulder’ look was a popular trend in the 1980’s and is a style statement that is here to stay in 2020. It can help make a simple outfit look more attractive by adding more glam and elegance. This unique and versatile design is very easy to style and is popular with long length dresses and tops.
Side slits are a well liked trend and stunning feature for long skirts and dresses. They can help to elongate your silhouette making you look taller. The slit should not start too high or low though so that the right amount of leg shows.
The kimono traditionally comes from Japan but perhaps due to the hot and humid climate of many African countries this cool, floaty and comfortable garment style has become fashionable.
Kimonos are made using a variety of materials including cotton, silk and satin. A kimono can be made in different lengths and can transform any outfit.
They are suitable for both casual and eveningwear (depending on the design) and can also be worn on their own as a dress instead of a separate layer of clothing.
Bold animal prints are popular in men’s African fashion including cheetah spots and zebra stripes. It’s best to wear a small amount at a time instead of from head to toe for example, the hem of a t-shirt or a short sleeve shirt. Wearing animal prints can portray confidence and they look great when worn alongside bright colours.
Blue and grey suits are the most popular colours as they are traditional and versatile. However, casual, relaxed and less formal suits, in a variety of different colours, are becoming increasingly popular for men who prefer to stand out in a crowd and get noticed.
It is fun, more stylish and interesting to wear bold, colourful tailored suits. Dark green, burgundy and brown are great, easy to wear colours to start off with. Keep the rest of the outfit simple, for example a plain white shirt with a black tie and shoes.
For those who are more adventurous try pastel colours including pink, green and blue shades. Instead of a shirt try wearing the suit with a plain t-shirt and trainers for a more casual dressed down look.
The kaftan is a traditional long and loose garment commonly worn in West Africa and also parts of Algeria and Morocco. They are often worn for special occasions but can also be worn casually.
Some kaftan styles are so long that they are like a dress. The design can be completely plain or have some decoration usually down the centre front.
A happy Kitenge customer modelling his bespoke kaftan in South Africa
Garments including Kaftans and dresses can be decorated with a type of embroidery called ‘brocade’, which is also popular in East Africa.
Usually a plain coloured fabric is used for the main part of the garment and a specialist embroidery tailor creates and sews his design over the top.
The embroidery usually decorates certain parts of the garment such as the neckline, hem and sleeve ends (see photo above). Gold thread is commonly used to add richness and shine. This trend is popular for evening and formal wear.
A bespoke kaftan top with a gold brocade design handmade in Tanzania for a customer in the UK
Many people like to wear African wax print clothing on the top and bottom half of their body with a plain coloured top, blouse, shirt or a plain pair of trousers such as black or dark blue jeans.
However, it is becoming increasingly popular for men and women to wear two piece combination outfits in the same print. For example, an African print skirt and top or a shirt paired with shorts or trousers.
Kitenge customers wearing 2 piece combination outfits at UK music festivals
Parents love to wear matching African print clothing with their children. This has been a popular trend for some years now. Mothers love to wear matching African print dresses with their daughter(s) and fathers like to wear matching colourful African shirts with their son(s) for example. Couples also like to wear matching outfits especially for formal occasions.
A father and son wearing matching Kitenge African print shirts at Glastonbury Festival, UK
A happy couple wearing their matching Kitenge African print trousers
Dashiki, also known as Angelina in West Africa and Makenzi in East Africa, is a popular loose fitting t-shirt that is worn by adults and children. It originates from Nigeria and is commonly worn in West Africa.
It has a v-neck and the decorative pattern in the fabric covers the neckline and end of the sleeves. Dashiki fabric is also used to make men’s shirts and women’s dresses for special occasions.
Kente is a traditional cloth from West Africa (Ghana and Ivory Coast). It is a luxury and expensive cloth originally only made for royals in the Ashanti Kingdom of Ghana. It is woven using a handloom, which is very labour intensive. Each colour and pattern has a hidden meaning.
Modern kente designs are now being printed in bulk using large machines and cotton fabric. This has made the cloth more widely available as it is more affordable than the traditional fabrics. This has increased the popularity of ‘Kente’, which is now also used to make modern afrocentric clothing.
Strips of traditional kente designs in Ghana, West Africa
Touches of Wax Print
Another popular African fashion trend is to experiment with plain coloured fabrics and small touches of wax print fabric. On a men’s shirt, for example, wax print fabric contrasts may be added to the collar, cuffs, pocket, placket, yoke or as binding on the hem.
The cut parts of a plain white shirt, with African print contrast for the button placket, before sewing
African Print Clashing
Wearing two different clashing prints together, for example as a top and skirt 2 piece, is a popular fashion trend for those of us who are brave enough to try it. It can be easy to get wrong so make sure the colours in both prints go well together.
People are largely attracted to wax print fabrics because of their bright, vivid and bold colours. Perhaps this is why African prints are usually fashionable in Europe and North America each year during the summer season.
What’s great about bright colours in that it gives you the freedom and confidence to explore yourself. It allows you to express your creativity and adventurous personality. Do not be afraid to play with colour, as your life will be much more fun and interesting!
A happy Kitenge customer proudly wearing his bright yellow African print shirt at Africa Oye Festival in Liverpool, UK
Florals prints are a popular trend that is always fashionable and stylish. It can make you feel creative, fun and playful. Both men and women can wear floral prints such as tops, dresses and shirts. Florals look great when worn with a denim jacket over the top or a pair of jeans.
Kitenge Men’s Ready-to-Wear Red Floral African Print Long Sleeve Shirt
Kitenge Men’s Ready-to-Wear Green Floral African Print Long Sleeve Shirt
While you are here, why not explore our colourful and bold collection of African print clothing including African menswear and African womenswear. Did you know that we also make made to measure clothing as well as ready-to-wear?
You can now take full control of the design process by creating your own shirt, trousers or shorts. Simply choose your preferred custom features such as the collar, cuff or placket style. We also have a wide range of original, high quality African wax print fabrics to choose from.
It is an incredibly special feeling to wear an item of clothing that has been designed by you, that fits perfectly and is so comfortable to wear! You could be the only person in the world wearing your unique Kitenge garment.
Kitenge Women’s Custom Made to Measure Pink/Orange Flower Short Sleeve Shirt
Kitenge Women’s Custom Made to Measure Maroon Flower 3/4 Sleeve Shirt
What’s more is that because our made to measure garments fit so well you are more likely to wear it more often and for many years to come. This helps to protect the environment as the lifecycle of the garment is extended.
Kitenge is a social enterprise and our mission is to empower our talented team of tailors in Tanzania, East Arica, to improve their livelihoods one colourful garment at a time. We source the majority of our raw materials from small businesses in Tanzania, which helps to support the local economy.
Take a tour of our African boutique online today and decide which one of our brightly coloured fabrics suits your personality best!
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