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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Primer on Nigerian Fashion

If you have ever been to Nigerian event, you will marvel at the different fabrics and clothes that people wear.  Whether it is a birthday, funeral, wedding or anniversary, people like to show up in style.  I rarely wear this type of clothing, because anything that takes longer than 3.7 seconds for me to put on is bound to get on my nerves. However, the fabric is beautiful and the possibilities are endless. 

In the States, people either order fabric from Nigeria and have it sewn by a local seamstress (expensive, but more common) or send their measurements to a Nigerian tailor and have someone bring it back for you (usually cheaper and better made, but more risky if it doesn't turn out the way you wanted).  The best of both worlds is to be there yourself and have things made while you are on ground (awesome option, except for that pesky four-figure plane ticket). Here is a quick glossary of the outfits/fabrics that are commonly used.  As an aside, I feel like I am doing a higher-tech version of my sixth grade "heritage project" where we had to research local culture for an end-of-year project.  This is back when, as the only melanin-enhanced person in my class, my social studies teacher had to cross out "European" as the only option for countries on the assignment sheet ;-P

Iro - aka, wrapper.  A long sarong-like piece of fabric used on the lower half.
Buba - aka, shirt.  Usually loose fitting and will fit you regardless of your size.
Gele - aka, head tie.  A decorative piece of fabric usually of contrasting material from the rest of the fabric. 
"Skirt and blouse" and "dress" - self-explanatory and this is where the innovation comes in and you can customize to whatever you want. 

FABRIC TYPES (have to go into my photo archives for all of these):
Adire - aka, batik-printed cotton.  This is made from a sorta tie-dyed technique.  I don't own a lot of these but here is a dress I wore when I was pregnant made from adire material.

Ankara - usually a printed design on flat cotton.  This is becoming a very popular fabric to work with because it is less pricey than the more textured fabrics and easier to sew. 

Damask - This ain't the same material as your grandma's drapes and placemats, kiddos.  This version is usually paper thin and very heavily starched/stiff texture.  It is used for tying gele and sometimes as an accent wrapper. 

Three versions of skirts, blouses and dresses made from ankara fabric.  
Each person with a a different pattern of damask (I'm wearing the brown gele in the middle).

Lace - not the Western version of lace that we associate with Victoria's Secret catalogs.  This type of lace is usually a cotton blend, but more textured and can range from plain colors to elaborate patterns.  This is generally the "go-to" dressy fabric that is used for many more formal events but some are lightweight and plain enough for everyday use.

Two types of lace (far left, in light yellow and the aqua/pink combo on the right)

Aso-Oke - This woven fabric is almost exclusively used for formal events, usually for weddings/funerals.  It is custom woven for the individual and thus, expensive.  It is also a heavier fabric, so less suitable for everyday use.  It is sometimes used for gele and iro.

Next post will be breaking down a few of the outfits from the trip over (J.Crew-ified, of course).
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