February 7, 2018 - Clothing & Accessories

Our Top 5 Styles of African Dresses in The UK

Kitenge customer called Nadine wearing her African print dress at Boardmasters music Festival in Newquay, UK

What we love about African print fashion dresses is how easy and simple they are to wear. They can easily be dressed up or down to suit the occasion. Be it for work, a special occasion such as a wedding or just as a casual outfit. Anything goes, so feel free to experiment and express yourself. Try styling them with a plain coloured or denim jacket and heels, boots or even trainers to match! Be bold. Be colourful. Be unique!

From fitted pencil dresses to peplum and maxi dresses there are a lot of classic styles to choose from, but which are the most popular? In this blog, we take a look at the top 5 most popular African dresses in the UK based on our experience.

The Pencil Dress

Starting off with our favourite ‘the pencil dress’. Why I hear you ask? Well, our talented team of tailors in Tanzania cut the African print fabric in a way that will accentuate all your best features. The dress has a high waistline so is very flattering to wear, especially for apple and pear body shapes.

The dress is fully lined inside, which helps to prevent friction and clinging. The cotton/polyester lining adds warmth to the garment so it can be worn all year round come rain or shine. The lining also adds additional comfort and increases the durability of the dress so it can be worn for many years to come.

Women's Purple African Print Pencil Dress Model Wearing in Tanzania

A Kitenge pencil dress from our Spring/Summer 2017 collection

If you prefer to cover your knees, then this African print dress can be made longer in length so it sits just below the knee or even as a midi. The short sleeves can also be made longer or removed entirely. The ‘pencil’ dress can easily be worn to work, weddings and parties. This versatile dress style is a great addition to any wardrobe. Our customers often tell us that they receive lots of compliments when wearing theirs.

Very well made, the pattern is beautiful and have already had several compliments and questions about where I bought the dress. Thanks!” (Alex, UK)

A bespoke tailor made African print pencil dress with shoulder pads worn by a women in Tanzania

Our dada, Betty, wearing a tailored pencil dress in Tanzania

In Tanzania, East Africa, this classic dress style is also very popular. From our experience, many Tanzanian women prefer fitted dress styles as they like to show off and celebrate their curves. This dress particular dress was custom-made to fit Betty’s body measurements and the tailor has added shoulder pads to give it a more trendy and fashionable look.

The Sleeveless Dress

Next up we have the ‘sleeveless’ dress, which can be made in a variety of different designs, such as a shift or fit and flare (see below). This style of dress tends to suit people who have a reverse triangle body shape (broad shoulders and narrow hips).

A Kitenge customer wearing her new sleeveless African print dress at Strawberry Fair 2016 in Cambridge, UK

A customer wearing her new sleeveless kitenge dress at Strawberry Fair in Cambridge, UK 

Complete this look with a matching, plain coloured cardigan, pumps or sandals. It is perfect for warm climates and also holidays. One of our customers loved wearing hers on a cruise ship around the Mediterranean. Perhaps this is why it is so popular at summer music festivals too!

The Peplum Dress

The ‘peplum’ style was a sought-after trend between the 1940s and 1980s but it first originated in ancient Greece! This unique style was first called a ‘peplos’ by the Grecians in 500 B.C. Traditionally, the “peplum” style is a piece of fabric that is tied around the waist causing the fabric to fold naturally and flare out over the hips. It was commonly used as a way to add style, flare and personality to an ordinary, basic, tunic-shaped dress.

If you have broad shoulders then this dress style will suit you perfectly as it helps to balance your figure by emphasising your waist where the peplum sits.

A tailored African print peplum dress worn by Tanzanian women in East Africa

A peplum dress modelled by our dada, Betty, in Tanzania

The ‘peplum’ dress is a very popular style across Africa. When you think of an African wax print dress your first thought may be a peplum. To many, it is seen as a ‘classic’ or traditional African clothing style. African print peplum tops and skirts are also popular on the African continent as well as in the UK.

The Fit and Flare Dress

The ‘fit and flare’ design is the perfect summer dress style. Fit and flare means that the dress is fitted in the upper body and at the waist, which flares out over the hips. This cute dress style is most flattering for pear body shapes. This modern name for a classic silhouette is also well known as an A-line dress, which was a term first associated with the French designer Christian Dior in 1955 and was a popular trend in the 1960s and 1970s.

African Fashion Week London model wearing a Kitenge African print fit and flare dress on the runway at Africa on The Square 2015 in Trafalgar Square organised by The Mayor of London

A model wearing a Kitenge fit and flare dress on the catwalk at Africa on The Square in Trafalgar Square, London, UK (photography by Monika Schaible)

This style of dress is also popular across Africa as seen in the South African designer Thula Sindi’s modern, simple and sophisticated clothing collection. He feels that his intricate and timeless pieces represent what every woman wants to wear.

South African designer Thula Sindi's fit and flare dress displayed on a mannequin at the Fashion Cities Africa exhibition at Brighton Museum, UK, in January 2017

A fit ‘n’ flare shaped dress by South African designer Thula Sindi displayed at the ‘Fashion Cities Africa’ exhibition at the Brighton Museum, UK, in 2017

The Maxi Dress

Last but not least is the ‘maxi’ dress, which creates an elegant and sophisticated look. The maxi style can instantly make you look taller, especially if worn with high heels so are great for petite people. The maxi is also very popular as an African print skirt.

Model wearing an African print maxi dress on the catwalk at Old Spitalfields Market in London, UK

An African print maxi dress modelled at an Open The Gate fashion show in Old Spitalfields Market, London, UK (designer unknown)

In Africa, maxi dresses seem to be the most desirable style for special occasions especially send off, kitchen parties and wedding ceremonies by both guests and the bridal party alike.

There were many maxi dresses showcased on the runway at Swahili Fashion Week 2016 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The below video shows the fabulous collection by Kiki’s Fashion, by local designer Christine Zimba, including a stunning maxi dress, pencil dress, fit and flare dress and modern, peplum style tops.

We hope you have enjoyed reading our blog post. It is certainly interesting to see the similarities between the latest Ankara styles in Africa and the UK. To learn more about African-inspired fashion check out the articles below.

Further reading:

The Rise of Ankara Dresses in The UK

African Wax Print Clothing – The Story Behind The Fabric

Browse our Latest Collection of Modern African Clothing Styles

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