African traditional dresses and skirts are as diverse as the many tribes that make up the African continent, from North Africa with the influence of Middle Eastern cultures to West Africa known for its Ankara styles and not forgetting East Africa with the Habesha Kemis, Mushanana, and Gomesi.
Southern and Central Africa aren’t left out either. There is the Toghu, the Samakaka, the Shweshwe, and the European-influenced style of the Nama people. All these traditional dresses and skirts worn by African Women are not just fashion items. They speak of the people’s history, way of life, and influences that have permeated their culture.
Traditional fabrics are also part of these dresses and skirts. The technology that birthed fabrics like the Malian Bògòlanfini, the Adire of the Yorubas, and the Kente in Ghana was invented, perfected, and sustained by African men and women who have continued to rock them to this day. Here is a list of 45 African Traditional dresses and skirts from different tribes in Africa to get us started;
List of 45 African Traditional Dresses and Skirts from Different Tribes in Africa
Let’s take a closer look at these 45 amazing African traditional dresses and skirts from different tribes on the continent, and we wouldn’t just stop there. We will also look at how these dresses and skirts are worn, what body structure they will great on, and how to accessorize them.
1. Kitenge Gown
The Kitenge is the equivalent of the ever-popular African print fabric in Eastern Africa. It is a 100% cotton wax print and can be sewn into any design of choice. The Kitenge is the same as the Ankara, which is its popular name in West Africa. The difference between the two is in the design and color of the materials, which reflect local traditions and symbols unique to each region.
Since the Kitenge is a material meant to be sown, it isn’t selective as per body structure. Any style that tickles your fancy is allowed, except you have to be conscious of the prints; certain prints, for example, ones with horizontal stripes, would make one look more prominent, whereas vertical prints will give you perceived height.
The style above is a classic design for hourglass and pear-shaped women. It shows off the curves beautifully, while the quarter sleeves draw attention away from the heavy arms. This style succeeds in effortlessly giving off a slim-fit look.
2. Ankara Gown
In West Africa, the Ankara print is the go-to material for sewing any design of your choice; it is as versatile as you want it, both in color and pattern. The Ankara fabric is known for its colorful and trendy prints, and new patterns are always coming up.
This Ankara style is perfect for rectangular, pear, and apple-shaped women; notice the A-line design that sits comfortably at the hips without accentuating it (for rectangular and apple-shaped body structure) and the ruffled sleeves that add some volume to an otherwise smaller chest of the pear-shaped body structure.
3. Shweshwe Skirt
Coming down to the southern part of Africa, you have the shweshwe fabric similar to the Ankara and Kitenge, except that Shweshwe is a much finer print than the bold Ankara prints. Like the other two, Shweshwe can be sewn into any style of choice, like this lovely bold pleated midi skirt with a matching crop top.
Pulling off this style is a matter of confidence rather than of body structure, as this style goes for all body types. It might not flatter your curves if you are an hourglass, but this style will keep heads turning. And you can match the skirt with different tops!
The Bògòlanfini is a cotton fabric ethnic to Mali, traditionally dyed with fermented mud, and just like the African print, can be sewn into any style of choice. The fabric’s thick appearance makes it ideal for fitted designs and thus perfect for hourglass and pear-shaped ladies. This style is best accessorized with a leather belt. A popular trend is to make a jacket out of the Bògòlanfini fabric, which is an option for rectangular-shaped ladies.
Samakaka is an African print from Angola. Its unique geometric print makes the fabric quite eye-catching and great for bold looks. Like all African prints, it can be sewn into any style of choice. Check out this cute Samakaka skirt and trousers with red shoes.
This style is ideal for curvy ladies, hourglass, and pear-shaped ladies. However, other shapes can still wear the Samakaka in a different style. An A-line design will do for apple-shaped ladies, and a style showing off the arms and legs for rectangular-shaped ladies.
6. Toghu Dresses
The Toghu or Atoghu is a fabric from Bamenda in the North West region of Cameroon. Originally worn by chiefs and dignitaries, the Toghu has grown to become the signature fabric for celebratory occasions. Known for its unique color pattern and design, the Toghu can be sewn into any style of choice; long or short gown.
While hourglass-shaped and pear-shaped ladies may go for a fitted style, rectangular-shaped ladies should go for styles that enhance their arms and legs, like the style above.
7. Toghu Skirt
The Toghu sewn as a skirt is just as beautiful; whether fitted or as a flared skirt, the Toghu fabric is elegant and classy. With this style, you can choose a top of your choice; a crop top or a V-necked fitted shirt. This style would work for all body structures; for curvy ladies, they get to show off their curves, and for ladies with small hip proportions, this Toghu skirt will accentuate the hips. This style, however, might not be ideal for ladies on the heavy side; a full gown would do instead.
8. Dashiki Shirt Gown
The Dashiki is Africa’s signature wear, no doubt, and one of the most popular African traditional dresses and skirts. All over the world, this print is easily recognizable as something uniquely African, and it follows the cut of the loose-fitting pullover shirt worn by African men. And yes, it can be worn as a gown by the ladies and can also be accessorized with a belt for ladies with a slimmer waist.
The Dashiki shirt gown is a no-no for ladies with the inverted triangle body structure; the lower part of the gown has no embellishments to make up for narrow hips, thus announcing the obvious imbalance. The Dashiki is meant to be short, so you have enough to add some extra touch to your legs, like some over-the-knee boots.
9. Dashiki Dresses
If you feel the Dashiki Shirt gown is to masculine, don’t worry, there is the Dashiki styled dress. Sewn with the butterfly design, this style is meant to follow the curves of the body, unlike the shirt style, which is loosely fitted. This style has a more feminine touch to it, and the way it is gathered at the midsection and not at the waist makes it a style for most body shapes. With or without a waistline, you can pull this style off.
10. Agbada Dress
The Agbada is known for its flowing wide-sleeved robe, originating from the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria. Men usually wear this style, but women have found a way to make a style out of the infamous Agbada. Worn as a single gown or with trousers, the Agbada dress exudes class and personality, a perfect definition of feminine prowess. And guess what? This style does not discriminate against size or shape. Just be ready to use some extra yards of materials than usual.
The boubou is a classic style for women of class in West Africa. Originally from Senegal, the boubou now enjoys a place as women as the go-to attire for lady bosses. Like the Agbada, the boubou is longer, and the sides are closed for that fitted yet relaxed look. The boubou tends to find women on the thick side. Women who are slim or extremely thin would look too small for this style. You wouldn’t want a situation where the cloth is wearing you rather than you wearing the cloth!
For the ladies who would find the boubou rather voluminous, the caftan, which is one of the most popular African traditional dresses and skirts, is there for you. Although still loosely fitted, the caftan has sleeves that add some definition to the outfit. Originating from North Africa, the caftan can be worn with a belt for an extra touch of style. Caftans usually are embroidered along the midsection and sleeves. It is ideal for all body structures; for that relaxed, casual look.
13. Ankara Kaftan
Kaftan can also be sewn with a fabric other than chiffon or silk. The above style is an example; a plain Ankara kaftan, embellished with bold embroidery designs on the frontal, sleeves, pockets, and hems. And yes, you can have pockets in your Kaftan. This look is more attuned to the West African distinct style of design. This look doesn’t call for a belt.
The traditional dress for ladies in Uganda is the Gomesi or busuuti, a colorful floor-length dress with distinct long and pointed sleeves and an accompanying sash.
Gomesi comes in as many colors as there are and is made from varied materials. Just as important as the dress is the sash which has to match the color of the outfit and could also match the wearer’s shoes. Gomesi rarely needs a lot of accessories; a simple earring or necklace will do.
Mushanana is the traditional ceremonial dress of women in Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda. The set consists of a tank top or bustier worn with a long skirt bunched with a shawl draped over one shoulder. Mushanana comes in varied colors according to your taste.
The secret is to match the long skirt with the shawl and accessories with the matching headpiece and necklace. This style can be worn by all, no matter the body structure, but this style is great for rectangular-shaped women as they get to show off their assets, which are their arms.
16. Mushanana Lace Dresses
Typically, Mushanana is usually made of silky materials to give it a graceful flow, whereas stiff fabrics might give a heavy look and feel. However, a wonderful alternative is a lace. As can be seen, Mushanana looks just as great in this material.
Although not as flowy, it still looks elegant and classy and, as always, a match made in heaven for rectangular-shaped women. Tall women with slender necks and prominent collar bones will enjoy this flattering style. Accessorise with matching headpiece, earring, and bracelets for that ultimate chic appeal.
17. Habesha Kemis
The Habesha Kemis is worn by Ethiopian and Eritrean women. Made of cotton in typically white, grey, or beige shades, the Habesha Kemis usually comes with bold, colorful embroidery at the frontal, cuffs, and hems. It is usually loosely fitted but gathered at the waist with a belt or by design. Fortunately, this style fits any body structure as all Ethiopian and Eritrean women wear the Habesha Kemis irrespective of body type.
18. Amhara Traditional Dresses
The Amhara people of the central Ethiopian highlands are one of the two largest ethnolinguistic groups in Ethiopia. Their traditional dress style is just like the Habesha Kemis, and as we can see, there are various ways it can be styled while still maintaining the tight bodice and full-skirted look. A shawl called a netela, draped over the shoulder/head or across the chest, or a belt can be used to style the dress.
19. Oromo Traditional Dress
Oromo is the largest ethnolinguistic group in Ethiopia, and their traditional dresses come in various colors and styles. Chief among these is this traditional dress with cape and bead designs. This style is designed to be loosely fitted, as is most of their traditional clothing. However, you can accessorize with a beaded belt for a defined waist. Since the cape is an essential part of this dress, the body structure of the wearer doesn’t matter per se, as the body would be shrouded at the end of the day.
20. Modern Oromo Dress
This style is a more modern twist to the traditional Oromo dress and is also one of the newest African traditional dresses and skirts. Not forgetting the netela, which is usually tied around the waist or draped around the arms as is the case. This free-flowing gown is best for rectangular-shaped bodies; the exposed arms and the illusion of a waist created by this design is alluring. Also, notice the elaborate neckpiece that adds color to the almost plain white dress. So yes, go bold on the accessories; a belt, a bold necklace, etc.
21. Wolaita Traditional Dress
This is the most traditional form of wolaita dress of the Wolayta people in the Southern Region of Ethiopia. Their traditional dresses are widely known for their red, yellow, and black denguza patterns. A white to[ with horizontal stripes across the front, paired with a white skirt with vertical stripes is the way to go. Often the skirt is embellished with another piece tucked into the waist, creating an illusion of a broader waistline. This is the style for apple and inverted triangle body shapes with narrow hips.
22. Wolaita Denguza Dress
The red, yellow, and black denguza patterned design can be sewn into dresses and skirts in bold print. It is normally sewn as a sleeveless top or gown and can be combined with other tops when sewn as a skirt. The headscarf is a great way to accessorize as this style does not need a lot of accessories given its already bold and vibrant color. You may sow according to what style best fits your body type.
23. Somali Guntiino
The Guntiino is a traditional dress that is worn by Somali women. More like a full-length wrap dress, it is wrapped around the body in a peculiar fashion, leaving one shoulder exposed and accessories with two beaded pieces of jewelry across the chest. The Guntiino is a simple yet impressive traditional dress style. While the maroon, orange, and black stripes design is the classic design, the Guntiino can also be rocked in other colors and fabrics. The Guntiino will look great on Rectangular, hourglass, and pear-shaped bodies.
24. Guntiino Gown
The Guntiino is traditionally worn in a unique wrap style. However, the fabric can be sewn into gowns that imitate this style. So no worries if you can’t get the hang of the traditional way of donning the dress. A loosely fitted, off-shoulder gown with a slit can never go wrong for a Guntiino dress. Rectangular-shaped ladies may go for a high waist sleeveless fit and, as always, accessorize with yellow beaded pieces of jewelry.
25. Berber Traditional Dress
The Berber are indigenous to Northwest Africa, and their traditional dresses have a lot of similarities to the north African dress culture. The Berber dress styles come with a lot of embellishments and accessories. From the silver headpieces to the long gowns with elaborate and intricate embroidery and the accompanying bold pieces of jewelry, Berber women tend to stand out uniquely. So if you love being loud and bold, their traditional dress style would be of some inspiration.
26. Maghrebi Traditional Dress
The Maghreb covers the region of North Africa bordering the Mediterranean Sea, where various ethnic groups, including the Berber, can be found. In this region, there are simple yet elegant styles that reflect the people’s cultural and religious heritages. Influence by Middle-east cultures and religion has seen styles like the caftan and veil flourish in the Maghreb. This simple gown with embroidery and lace detail would look great on rectangular, pear, or hourglass-shaped ladies. The added belt at the waist would give a defined shape to the otherwise loose gown.
27. Kabyle Traditional Dress
The Kabyle people are a Berber ethnic group indigenous to northern Algeria. Their traditional dress is usually white, black, red, blue, or silky yellow fabric with beautiful embroidery on the sleeves, cape, and the bottom of their long frock. Another embroidered towel or a thin belt may be wrapped around the waist, or an embroidered veil thrown over the head. Kabyle are generally colorful and can be rocked by all body types. The embellishments and definition from the towel more than make up for any gap in body structure.
28. Kente Gowns
Kente is the signature fabric among ethnic groups such as the Ashanti and Ewe in Ghana. Known as nwentoma, meaning woven cloth, Kente is usually worn in a toga-like fashion. But nowadays, it can be used as a material for sowing your favorite style. So no matter your body structure, you can use the kente fabric to your satisfaction. Closely fitted dresses for hourglass and pear shapes, embellished bottoms for apple and inverted triangles, and high waist sleeveless A-line dresses for rectangular shapes.
29. Leppi Traditional Dresses
Leppi is a traditional hand-woven and hand-dyed fabric indigenous to the Fouta region of Guinea. It is known for its unique blue and white stripe designs. This, however, can be a challenge as we all know that stripes are as important to the final look as the design of the outfit. Using the Leppi to their advantage, slim women who may wish to add some weight to their look can choose a design with the stripes placed vertically, and for perceived height, horizontal placement of the stripes will work wonders.
30. Leppi Themed Gown
Leppi can be combined with other plain materials for a balanced and distinct look. A plain blue material that matches the blue of the Leppi isn’t a bad option. There is so much you can do with this look, using the stripes to your advantage. Remember, vertical stripes give an appearance of length, and horizontal give some weight. The above style is used to accentuate and diminish certain parts of the body.
31. Igbo Traditional Gown
The Igbo tribe, found in southeastern Nigeria, is known for the Isiagu fabric, which consists of a soft fabric with several lion or leopard heads imprinted on it. It comes in various colors of white, black, red, blue, and green and can be sewn to any style of choice. However, a short dress is a norm for a maiden, accompanied by traditional waist beads Jigida and beaded necklace and bracelets. This style is meant to be closely fitted and as such, is best for hourglass and pear-shaped females.
32. Igbo traditional Dress
The Igbos also use other fabrics for their traditional dresses and skirts. A favorite is the George material which can be sewn into a blown and a skirt or a long fitted gown. Sometimes a George wrapper completes the assemblage. This style is accessorized as usual with beaded accessories. Igbo Traditional dresses are generally sewn to be closely fitted to show off the curves, which is not the ideal style for the inverted triangle and apple body structures.
33. Yoruba Buba
The Buba is a style unique to the Yoruba tribe in western Nigeria. The buba, which is a loose-fitted blouse with long sleeves, is completed with an iro (wrapper) and gele (head tie) to make a complete package. This style may be accompanied by either a Pele (a stiff shawl), which is wrapped around the waist, or an Iborun, which is draped across the shoulders.
Aso Oke (a hand-woven cloth) is the go-to material for this style, but of course, you could use another material of choice. The style is perfect for inverted triangle and apple body structures, as the Pele can be used to add weight to the otherwise smaller hips.
34. Adire Gown
Adire, which means tie and dye, is another favorite material for traditional Yoruba dresses. Adire is produced using various resist dye techniques, and the resulting textile is usually indigo in color. However, these days, you will mind Adire in other colors. Like the Ankara, it can be sewn into any style of choice, and if you have a good designer who can work well with Adire, you are sure to get a beautiful combination of colors and patterns that will give your Adire that elegant touch.
35. Zulu Traditional Skirt
The Zulus are the largest ethnic group in South Africa, and the traditional attire reflects their vibrant and resourceful spirit. Part of the female Zulu’s assemblage is the Zulu skirt (isidwaba), usually short and pleated, with colors added at the hems.
The skirt itself comes in various colors; white, black, blue, red, yellow, etc. A circular-shaped hat inkehli, an isicwaya to cover the chest, and an assortment of colorful beaded necklaces, belts, and bracelets contribute to making the Zulu dress a delight to behold.
36. Xhosa Traditional Skirt
The Xhosa traditional outfit consists of a long embroidered skirt, usually black and white, with a matching top and headscarf (doek). The skirts, which are typically worn long, are designed to be large and bulky, while the tops are closely fitted or styled as desired.
Apple and inverted triangle body shapes would find this design beneficial, as it hides how the hips are smaller than the bosom or shoulders. Rectangular-shaped bodies can also rock this style effortlessly. The go-to accessories for the Xhosas are beaded pieces of jewelry.
37. Kanuri Traditional Dress
The Kanuri tribe could be found in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, southeastern Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. Their traditional dress varies across different communities, but with the heavy influence of Islam, wearing a veil or head scarves has become part of their attire. A typical Kanuri dress may consist of boubou worn with a scarf or veil. Jewelries are minimal, and henna can be used to decorate the hands.
38. Anuak Traditional Skirt
The Anuak people can be found in South Sudan and western Ethiopia, and their women wear lots of beads as part of their traditional attire. A beaded apron, also known as Adola or Otaa ki tiyii, is tied around the waist, followed by alïëga and mututhäwï (beads) on the waist. This skirt is meant for ceremonial occasions and not for everyday wear. However, it is a beautiful work of art worth celebrating; the intricate beadwork and embroidery make it a masterpiece.
39. Maasai Traditional Dress
The Maasai are famously known for cotton blankets called Shuka. The most popular Shuka is the red checkered ones, but do you know that there are also plain solid ones? Shukas are usually draped around the body or, as in recent times, sewn into a long loose gown. These modern Shukas are decorated with strings and beads and styled with belts and elaborate pieces of jewelry. The jewelry is usually made with beads and metal wire, the most prominent being the metal collars worn around the neck.
40. Nama Dress
The Namas are an ethnic found in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana. Interestingly, their traditional dresses resemble the Victorian traditional fashion of long, flowing dresses. The missionaries introduced this style in the 1800s, and it has grown to become an integral part of the Nama identity.
Full puffy sleeves and a full flowy skirt are the signature styling of the Nama dress. As it provides full coverage, rectangular-shaped ladies wouldn’t find this ideal as curvy ladies. And if you are on the heavy side, this dress would accentuate that.
41. Nama Patchwork Dresses
The Nama patchwork dresses are a reflection of the traditional art form of the people, which consists of brightly colored motifs. By incorporating their artform and the foreign style of the missionaries, the patchwork dresses are now a unique form of expression that represents the rich heritage of the Nama people. Although still sewn with fitted tops, puffed sleeves, and bellowing bottoms, this style could be twerked with some touches, like a quarter sleeve, a belt, and lace hems.
42. Malagasy Dresses
The Salouva is the traditional dress of the Mahorese women found in Madagascar. It consists of a fitted top (short or long sleeve) and a lace skirt covered by another fabric tied over the chest. A shawl, the kishali can be worn over the shoulder or on the head. The Salouva is designed to be loosely fitting with no defined waist. So for curvy ladies who love showing off their curves, this style might not be to your taste.
43. Malagasy Mayotte
Another Malagasy dress on our list of 45 African traditional dresses and skirts is this version of the Salouva Mayotte style, which has the outer fabric tied below the breasts instead of above them. This style allows you to show off your top, giving some definition to the style. Apple and hourglass-shaped ladies could use this to their advantage. Accessorize this style with your favorite earrings, necklaces, and bangles.
44. Fulani Traditional Attire
The Fulanis are a nomadic tribe found mainly in West Africa. Their traditional dresses consist of Mudukare, which is a sleeveless crop top worn with a wrapper. Accessories beaded headband and waist beads, earrings, and bangles. The style is best for ladies on the slim side (because of the crop top), and although the wrapper might accentuate the hips, ladies with a small hip ratio might still pull this style off with the help of some waist beads.
45. Fulani Saki Gown
Last but not least on our compilation of 45 African traditional dresses and skirts is the Fulani saki dress. The Saki fabric is a popular fabric amongst Fulani brides. Dominantly indigo in color, the fabric can be sewn into any style of choice. Notice how this design took advantage of the vertical stripes of this particular saki design to create a more slimmer-fitted effect. The Saki can be embellished with different designs, beads, and feathers. Accessorized as always with earrings, necklaces, and bracelets.