google-site-verification: googlecb803562c78427f3.html Dashiki: From West Africa to the Ends of the World



Posted by Florian Cheval on


The culture of a people can be defined by its fashion of dress, its foods or its language. And when it comes to West Africa and in particular their sense of style, we cannot fail to mention the dashiki . This is the story of how this garment inspired popular culture in West Africa and beyond.


Traditional Meaning of Dashiki

Dashiki - "dan-ciki" or "dan-shiki", meaning shirt - is derived from the Hausa and yoruba respectively, spoken by groups of people mainly found in Nigeria. Traditionally, the dashiki is a loose, V-neck garment, often embroidered and primarily worn by men. Recently, women are also wearing it as a shirt or cutting it into long dresses and all sorts of other creative cuts.

African dashiki tshirts

As casual wear, the dashiki is made with little or no embroidery, while for weddings or formal occasions it will be made of silk brocade and include a embroidery complex on the neckline and around the cuffs.

Its origins date back to its adaptation to the climate of West Africa, often very humid and characterized by intense heat. As such, this loose-fitting garment made from lightweight fabric is ideal for the climate. In West Africa, dashiki is commonly worn in countries like Nigeria, Togo , the Benign and the Ghana .

The first stores (manufacturers)

While dashiki as clothing can be made from several types of fabric, it is the print Angelina of Toon van de Manakker , a textile designer from Vlisco , which is now the most recognizable fabric in the diaspora as "dashiki". The designer based the print on the 19th century Ethiopian noblewoman's tunic.

First dashiki sales store

In the 1960s, dashiki first appeared in American culture when Jason Benning , as well as Milton Clarke , Howard Davis And William Smith , began mass producing it as unisex clothing under their company New Breed Clothing Ltd, based in Harlem, NY. It then became a symbol of affirmation of struggles of African Americans in the United States, and a symbol of black pride and the reclamation of their African roots and identity


It may not be exactly what you'd think in its current state, a revived streetwear trend, largely associated with the intricate and highly recognizable "Angelina" print, but its story is also that of African innovation and black resistance .

A Black Panthers uniform in the 1960s

Its symbolic meaning, however, was cast thousands of kilometers outside the continent's borders. It is people of African origin, whose ancestors were transported to North America in chains, who have carried this torch. The civil rights and Black Panthers The 1960s and early 1970s gave dashiki its political power. African Americans adopted this item as a way to reject Western cultural norms. It was then that the dashiki moved beyond style and functionality to become an emblem of black pride, illustrating the beauty of blackness as a Afro with raised fist .

Black Panther with Dashiki

Its meaning developed in the same vein as the rhetoric of " Africa as the promised land " which fueled movements like the pan-Africanism and the Rastafarianism . Perhaps ironically, these Afrocentric philosophies – which developed outside of mainland Africa – have helped shape some of the fiercest notions about African identity and the politics of blackness.

Many of these outward concepts of African identity adopted by black Americans were once again reinforced by people on the present continent. The principles taught by civil rights leaders were widely adopted by leaders of African liberation movements, and the revolutionary politics of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers helped transform Fela Kuti's laid-back life into a afrobeat socially charged which he praises today.

Malcolm X in dashiki

This transfer of ideas is much less strange than it seems - perhaps such philosophies could only have been nourished in the context of the experience of Blacks of America and the Caribbean . The "promised land" could be envisioned more clearly by those wildly removed from its promise, and the dashiki could become something greater than itself when worn by black people who, for hundreds of years , were not given the opportunity to embrace all that represented their African heritage.

Like the black Americans who championed it in the mid-20th century, the dashiki is no less African because much of its identity was shaped in a different country. The dashiki, whether worn in Lagos or Washington DC, is proudly and loudly black.

The popularization of afro fashion

The dashiki's political vigor weakened toward the end of the 1960s when it became popular among white counterculture groups, whose adoption of the garment—based primarily on its aesthetic appeal—undermined its status as a sign of black identity. Retailers began importing dashikis made in India, Bangladesh and Thailand in large numbers. These versions, which often featured the print kanga associated with East Africa , were commonly worn as a "loincloth" by women in Kenya and Tanzania.

Kanga fabric

During this period, notable black intellectuals began warning their communities against the trivialization of dashikis and other symbols of black beauty . But " Black is beautiful "is dangerous if it amounts only to wrapping oneself in one's own glory and magnificence," wrote the civil rights activist and politician Sterling Tucker in his 1971 book “ Black Strategies for Change in America .”

The dashiki lost some of its fervor in the late 20th century, when its use in the United States became largely limited to ceremonies or festivities, or as a pop culture stereotype.

Despite its recent reappearance, which some might consider a afro fashion , the dashiki continues to convey an important message. It cannot be worn without recognizing the impression it gives to others: that the wearer has made a conscious decision to wear something that is recognized as distinctly and uniquely African.

Dashiki today


Dashiki: reflection of African identity

The dashiki has become a ready-to-wear vector of pan-Africanism, connecting the continent and the diaspora through a common affirmation of the value of an original black creation. Its inherent symbolism comes from a fight against white supremacy and the adoption of African culture as an antithesis - yes, that's a lot of weight to put on a piece of clothing, but the symbols really are that powerful. So much so that when a black person dons a dashiki, they are wearing one of the most universally understood interpretations of the phrase “I’m Black and I’m proud,” without having to say a single word.

When we asked Yasmin Jamaal, a British self-taught fashion designer and blogger, why she creates her fashion pieces with dashiki fabrics or ankara , she replied: "Whether I am creating clothes for myself or for a client, using ankara fabrics reminds me of many things. I will name a few: it reminds me of my country, my roots, the fact that African fabrics, ankara and dashiki in particular, are not in fashion. It is timeless. It never goes out of style and so you will never run out of ideas on how to design these fabrics or what to do with them .

American stars in dashiki

When Pop dresses in Dashiki

From around 2012 to 2016 when it reached its peak, this symbolic garment became the most fashionable business/casual outfit for people of African descent around the world and many celebrities were quick to adopt join in the celebration of identity through fashion. By Amandla Stenberg has Beyonce , Chris Brown , Drake , French Montana , Jhené Aik o, Rihanna, Wale And Zendaya , it seemed like almost everyone was making a fashion statement with the dashiki.

Thanks to the images of these celebrities wearing the garment, its popularity has increased worldwide and many designers are creating beautiful pieces with the Angelina fabric which is already available in an infinity of bright colors.

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