Nigerian fashion has always been distinct, statement-making and very defining. Now a forerunner in not just Africa but all over the world, the Nigerian fashion industry has undergone several changes over the years and decades, reinventing itself, taking parts of the old and mixing it with the new, yet retaining its distinctive allure and flavour.
To say Nigerians have always been fashionable people is to put the enormity of our lifestyle and elegance mildly. But like a child that outgrows its diapers, the fashion sense of Nigerians has evolved over the years.
Most Nigerian women wore long dresses and hats. The women dressed in both fitted and oversized outfits depending on their preference and complemented with permed, well-sprayed Afros. The uneducated people simply wore their native clothes and did simple, local hairstyles. Another trend that took the fashion industry by storm then were mini skirts and dresses. This trend was allegedly invented by Mary Quant and aimed at seductively showing off women’s legs. During this time, bright colours were introduced for men and there was also an obsession with prints and patterned fabrics. Women’s fashion constituted of mini dresses with ladylike silhouettes (outline), while men wore loud, coloured, patterned shirts. Also, skinny ties were in vogue. During this time, platform and wooden shoes were very fashionable, although they weren’t as tall as they are today. In addition, the stiletto heels were very popular at this time. Men rocked boot-legged pants, tightly fitted shirts with loud prints and the first two buttons open-topped by a killer afro.
The trend for women was what we now call oleku, thanks to a film of the same name; a baggy-sleeved buba worn over an iro that stopped anywhere from a little above the knees to mid-thigh. Men wore agbadas and danshikis, trends that have made a stunning comeback. For a more western look, it was all about the colours. For example, a man could rock a blue jumpsuit and shoes to match. The seventies also gave rise to the jerry curls and perms for both sexes. “To match” (wearing accessories that matched the colours of dresses) also became very common around this period and even men were not left out.
In the eighties, everything was big; the bigger, the better. Maxi skirts for women, baggy suits for men, chunky jewellery, huge perms and wild afros were the order of the day. Some of the fashion raves may look ridiculous to us today as some people wore leg warmers, a sweater and a mini skirt all at the same time, all very brightly coloured.
Fashion started experiencing subtle changes; it became more retro, pop and hip with a lot of notable American influence. The capris pants began to make an appearance; the miniskirts, the scousers – a pair of shorts and skirts sewn together – also sprung up amongst many others. For native attires, boubous were the most popular in this era. Men’s fashion also saw a change. Trouser hems became narrower and narrower while they fit in the hips and the waist grew looser. Men wore their hair short – buzz cuts and fades were in as they ditched the curl activators and relaxers. Truthfully, American hip-hop, films and lifestyles heavily influenced fashion and the clothes, shoes and hair of that time reflected this. Every trend was more or less retro, inspired by a previous era. Some of the trends came back bigger, better and sexier; the little black dress (made popular by legendary French designer Coco Chanel), the bellbottom jeans, cropped tops, pants, ballet flats, and oversized glasses. Most of these trends have remained in this present decade. It was also around this period that Ankara fabrics made an appearance and gained national acceptance. People started using them at parties and before long, ‘aso-ebi’ became a big thing, exploding its popularity, even more, something it still enjoys to date.
The year 2000-Present Day
American fashion is still influencing what a lot of people wear, but thankfully, a lot of Nigerians are embracing local clothing, wearing them to official and social functions. Despite the trendy weaves- Brazillian, Peruvian, Bone straight or Chinese, a trend that may be seen as unique to this present time would be the natural hair look – more women are dumping relaxers and embracing their natural hair. Lightening creams are also the rave now and shoes are a mix of so many eras, with Nigerian footwear designers making western shoe styles but using traditional fabrics like Aso-oke for them. Another great thing is that a lot of ‘old school’ looks are making a comeback. Skinny jeans and bell-bottoms have come and gone, headscarves in the form of turbans and caps and even afros are back. In terms of hairstyles, young men and women of Nigeria’s Independence era fancied a myriad of beautifully intricate threading and weaving that sometimes look like cobwebs or waves. Puffs and cornrows were popular too and of course, alongside the almighty afro. Fashion is a repetitive process, and Nigerian fashion is no exception to this rule.
One of the meeting points of the fashion-conscious women of the ’60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and the modern-day fashionistas is the way women love bags. No ensemble was complete without a bag. The difference in the modern-day type of bags women carry is that the old era bags are smaller. These days, the line between a “handbag” and a “travel bag” is becoming increasingly blurred as more women now fancy large everyday carry-ons. Everyday bags have become bigger and heavier too, but small bags and purses are back with a bang as many women can be seen sporting tiny bags that can carry very little.
As Nigerian fashion evolves more and more every day with fashion designers and fashion shows taking Nigerian fashion to the world, Nigerian fashion is a global force that is here to stay.