MENSWEAR AS WOMENSWEAR, WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
In Christine Price’s book Made in West Africa, she talks about the dress sense of some West Africans in the chapter on textile arts. “Even in a crowded market, the women are elegantly dressed. They carry themselves proudly, as people who are used to bearing loads on their heads…Yoruba men dress with as much flair and brilliance as their wives. A man walks with dignity in the long flowing gown called agbada, and it swirls about him when his feet move in small intricate steps of Yoruba dance.”
These days, the narrative has changed with women wearing men’s agbada to events. In Yoruba land, women wore this attire only when inevitably, female regents ascended the throne of their fathers. A classic example is that of Her Royal Majesty Princess Adetutu Adesida-Ojei, who became the Regent of Akure in 2013 when her father, HRM, the Deji of Akure, Oba Adebiyi Adegboye Adesida Afunbiowo II passed on. These female monarchs are addressed as Kabiyesi, the same way their male counterparts are saluted. Their husbands are also obliged by customs and tradition to address them with this greeting and observe the usual rites of obeisance and worship.
Young, stylish Nigerian women are not waiting to be regents to wear the agbada with aplomb! Sometime earlier in the year, a man ranted online about womenfolk taking over the last distinctively male item of clothing, the agbada and making it theirs. He even had photos to show for it! Recently at the movie premiere of The CEO, actress Kemi ‘Lala!’ Akindoju caused a stir with her full-length agbada worn over a fitted shirt and cigarette pants. Even men these days especially the younger ones, favour shorter agbadas. At this particular event, few men adorned themselves in agbadas and fewer still wore the danshiki, its younger relative.
The danshiki has become a favourite among women for the past six years but became more prominent three years ago. In the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, the danshiki written as dashiki and defined as a noun, is “a loose shirt or longer piece of cloth worn by men in West Africa often made from cloth with brightly coloured patterns.” This definition might well be limited to such books as even the Yoruba men’s fila cap has also been taken over by women a long time ago as a go-to accessory not necessarily tied to having a bad hair day. In Lisa Folawiyo’s 2012 Vintage Love spring/summer collection, which she showed in New York and Lagos, the fila played a major role as an accessory. Recently, fashion designer Kiki Kamanu posted photos of herself with this accessory and it has been seen on several women even when they wear very feminine outfits.
On the international scene, the late French couturier Yves Saint Laurent who interestingly was born in Morocco and was one of the first European designers to work with African and Black models, introduced his ‘Le Smoking’ suit for women in 1966. At this time when women wearing trousers was considered off-kilter and inappropriate, he introduced this tuxedo-style suit, the first of its kind to gain attention in the fashion world. It has since become an iconic and empowering fashion statement for women.
With the agbada, danshiki and fila continuing this trend here in Nigeria, menswear-inspired female clothing is probably here to stay though some remain uncomfortable with it.
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