Traditional African dress

In many African countries today  ‘traditional’ African dress is often regarded as old fashioned and ‘rural’, or only used for ceremonial use at weddings, baptisms etc. Some countries, like Mali, have been slower in the uptake of imported fashions, but even there the practice is growing. Here is the ladies part of a wedding feast.

Many young people feel that western dress is the modern way to dress.

  • For men: jeans, t-shirts, two and three piece men’s suits
  • For women: skirts, t-shirts, jeans and skirt suits

When I was filming in a semi-urban school complex in Mali I was quite surprised to see older girls in the neighbouring senior school walking around in what would be regarded in Europe as very skimpy evening dresses!  This was in contrast to myself and local female teachers who were generally wearing the traditional boubou with a headscarf. Male teachers wore a range of clothes from local suits to western trousers and shirts.

Dress in Senegal

Modern Senegalese fashion is leading the way in West Africa. There are some great designers out there. Just look at this wedding dress and fashion shoot by Oumou Sy.

Check out the rest of for more African fashion.

Traditional wedding dress, Senegal

Traditional wedding dress, Senegal


I wondered how much difference there has been over the last century or so and so I sought out old photo archives. One theory I had was that there has always been outside influence on dress fashions.

Obviously this is going to turn out into a big ‘project’, so I’m just going to put in this article a few photos and links from Senegal to whet your appetite.

The following pictures are from Adire African Textiles

Wolof chief and his entourage

Wolof Chief and his Entourage

Here is a photo of an Oulof (Wolof) chief and his entourage from around 1910.

Senegal Chef de Province

Senegal Chef de Province

and another one of a ‘chef de province‘ from the same period

I found a number of things to note about the photos. In the first one, the costume of the men surrounding the chief doesn’t seem to have changed much from the early 20th century to today. The chief’s costume however, seems quite different. The velvet cloak which is exemplified in the second photo is not seen today. Formal wear for ‘chiefs’ or anyone in a higher position today is likely to be a formal boubou with embroidery, a western business suit or what is known as a safari suit ( a short sleeved or long sleeved shirt and fitted trousers). Note the leather boots and the army sabre in the second photo, which probably imply colonial influence.

You may also be interested in this article on modern dress in Senegal

Suggested Books

Other Africa culture books

Africa Culture : The Sukuma of Tanzania Africa Culture Mali : Sacred Sites of the Dogon Africa Culture : Zebala, A Village in Mali Africa Culture : Dakar Declaration on the establishment of the Forum Procultura 16 Call for Papers: Sport and the City: Popular Culture and Urban Space in Africa

  One Response to “Africa Culture : Dress in Senegal”

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