African clothing culture can range from wrapped loincloths to elaborate fashionable garments. It’s further explained in the Fashion Encyclopedia that in Africa, wrapped-around clothes similar to Roman togas are popular in some areas while in other regions, fabrics are cut and sewed into skirts, dresses, loose trousers, shirts and robes.
Agbada is a type of wide-sleeved robe worn by important men in Nigeria, especially during ceremonial occasions such as weddings and funerals. They are usually made of handspun cotton known as fari, a local wild silk known as tsamiya, imported silk known as alharini or a handspun indigo-dyed saki. The robes are adorned with exquisite embroidery that usually depicts designs known as “two knives” or “eight knives.” A popular belief across Nigeria is that the embroidery in Agbada has a protective role on the wearer. In fact, it does have a practical function which is to strengthen the pocket and the neck of the robe.
Aso Oke is made of a traditional African woven fabric that is sewn together like a quilt. They are often woven using a double heddle loom. Aso Oke is worn in various styles. Some use it as a wrapped--around loincloth while others cut and sew it to create a drape--much like the sari. Traditionally, Yoruba women wear Aso Oke outfits in four part: the buba or the blouse, a wrap skirt, a head tie and a shawl or sash.
Aso Oke is printed with symbols known among the Yoruba tribes as Adinkra. The symbols are understood in many regions in Africa despite the variation in languages. The meaning attributed to the symbols depends on how they are arranged.
Gomesi, also known as Busuuti, is the official women’s dress in Buganda--a state in Uganda and the site of the old Bantu kingdom. It’s usually worn during festivals and other ceremonial occasions such as Kwanjula or engagement ceremony, weddings and funerals. In rural areas, women wear it as an everyday garment. Busuuti or gomesi has a distinct square-neck often decorated with two buttons. It has a pointy sleeves and a huge sash draping over a full skirt.
It’s believed that gomesi was originally worn by Gayaza school girls back in the 1940s and 1950s. During the time, school girls wore wrapped-around cotton sheets tied to the waist using a strip of cloth. When the missionary tutors from Europe came, they began to worry that the clothes would slip off whenever the school girls bend down, thus exposing their breasts. They asked an Indian tailor to sew what they called gomesi to cover the girls’ body. Decades after, gomesi is believed to have become a popular outfit in Buganda and later on, in Basoga, Iteso and Alur.
Meanwhile, other Ugandans argue that the gomesi was already worn prior to the coming of the missionaries and that the latter merely improved the design of what used to be made of bark cloth.