Afrocentric fashion is hot right now, but for African American women, it’s more than a trend. It’s a way to honor our heritage and celebrate who we are—while creating a style all our own.
As a style-conscious African American woman, what’s your relationship to black-is-beautiful fashion? Maybe you’ve already embraced the look and others look to you as an Afrocentric fashionista. Or maybe you’re drawn to contemporary African-inspired clothing, but aren’t quite ready to wear it.
Wherever you are on the fashion spectrum, there’s an Afrocentric look for you—one that’s in sync with your personal style.
So how do you find your sweet spot? That’s easy: study what’s out there, and see what you like. Browse Ashro’s Afrocentric clothing collection, for starters, and be sure to read Ashro’s “Celebrate” fashion blog for new tips and trends every season! There are also many fashionable black women who write their own Afrocentric style blogs and share their ideas. Just search online for “black women’s fashion blogs” for links.
But first, learn the basics of Afrocentric fashion, from traditional dress to its modern reinvention. The more you know about it, the better you’ll be at creating both stylish and meaningful looks, and appreciating those who have a special knack for pulling together Afrocentric outfits.
A Nod to Traditional Afrocentric Garb
As you know, Africa is a big continent, embracing many cultures and people. So—as you’d expect—traditional African clothing (literally) covers a lot of ground. Let’s focus on types of apparel most likely to be familiar to the 21st century African American woman.
- Caftans – We usually think of caftans as long, flowing garments, and traditional caftans typically are. However, you can also find modern caftans that are short in length and closely fitted to the body. Check out our blog, Caftans 101, as well as our modern caftan collection for ways to wear this go-everywhere style.
- The Yoruba – This traditional Nigerian outfit consists of a long-sleeve blouse (buba), fitted wrap skirt (iro), head tie (gele) and shoulder shawl (pele). You’ll find elements of this classic in modern Afrocentric fashion—for example, stylish wrap-around dresses and skirts that capture the graceful lines of the iro.
- Headwraps – Whether you call it a dhuku (Zimbabwe), doek (South Africa) or gele (Nigeria), a growing number of African American women are experimenting with the traditional African headwrap. Join the movement: learn how to tie a headwrap and view our headwear collection.
- Dashikis – These iconic, loose-fitting West African shirts—often featuring embellished V-necks, bell sleeves and hems—remain popular with both men and women, African American and otherwise.
- African Prints – African prints aren’t a type of clothing, but rather a group of distinctive fabric designs based on age-old African textiles. Today, the designs are either printed on or woven into modern fabrics, typically in bright, vivid colors or dramatic black and white. Learn the most popular types of African prints, like kente cloth and mud cloth.
Tips for Exploring Contemporary Afrocentric Fashion
Today’s creative afrocentric designers are combining elements of traditional African apparel with contemporary western fashion to create fresh, exciting looks that are appropriate for work, church, social events and more. Here are some ideas for incorporating afrocentric clothing into your modern American wardrobe:
- Love wearing dresses? Look for afrocentric dresses in a range of lengths and styles, from flattering wrap-style dresses that will work in the office…to full-skirted maxi dresses in pretty Ankara prints…to elegant jacket dresses with heritage-inspired accents (perfect for special occasions).
- If formal pantsuits are one of your go-tos, keep your eye out for sophisticated pantsuits with an authentic African flavor, such as dashiki style prints and richly-embellished jackets. Look for beading, embroidery, appliques and cowry shells.
- When it comes to women’s Afrocentric tops, have some fun. Consider a colorful, flouncy, off-the-shoulder blouse, slinky animal print tunic or fabulous cold-shoulder dashiki. Not to mention a very 21st century graphic tee sporting a heritage-inspired motif!
- If you’re a conservative dresser, ease into your new look by incorporating Afrocentric accessories into your existing wardrobe. Choose shoes or a bag with a kente cloth print or jewelry with an African flavor.
- Don’t be afraid to try traditional African garb. Treat yourself to a real caftan—you’ll be surprised how good it looks and how great it feels to wear. If you’ve always admired African American women who can rock a headwrap, why not challenge a friend or two and give it a try together?
In short, Afrocentric fashion is a beautiful extension of our heritage and our roots. We say: embrace it, enjoy it and wear it with pride—in whatever way feels right for you.