Top 10 African Inspired Fashion Trends – The Afropolitan Effect

Western fashion has often looked to African and African-American culture for inspiration but this time around the world seems to want an official romance with it. Here’s what you should know about when the affair started and how Afropolitans are changing the narrative. 

Western designers have been flirting with African symbols, patterns and fibers since as far back as the 1970s when Yves Saint Laurent created a fashion collection that evoked images of an exotic Africa for non-African audiences. These collections were based on what Western designers imagined Africa to be as opposed to what it really was. (Read more about times when Western fashion took its spinoff from Africa.)

As expected, this cultural appropriation, which was not benefitting African designers or textile weavers in any way created an uproar because it was a one-sided affair and was not mutually beneficial. Africa was the glamorous mistress whom Western designers wanted to profit from but not empower. The resistance also came because no one can tell Africans how to be authentically African. Despite the deep cultural similarities, the countries in the continent share different political climates, geographic realities, languages and weather. Meaning that there is no one single narrative of African reality.

These diverse experiences of Africans gave rise to the term Afropolitan. Afropolitans are young Africans with a global outlook, upwardly mobile, culturally savvy, changing the perceptions about Africa through creative expression and redefining what it means to be African in the midst of a multitude of subcultures. To be Afropolitan means we understand that the world is a global village (heck, we are products of that globalization), and that design inspiration can come from anywhere. However, if the fashion world borrows from Africa we ask for recognition, inclusion and empowerment of African designers and retail brands that have worked hard to keep evolving African style, giving it new currency and new associations. 

With this understanding, let’s take a look at the top 10 Afro-inspired trends for women that have found their way to the retail fashion streets.

#1 - Matching Couple Outfits

Matching or uniform outfits are the status quo for African couples and family members at special occasions such as weddings and birthdays.  Fabric is bought in bulk and made into different glamorous attires by family and friends for an event, to serve as a form of identification, solidarity and love. The world has taken a leaf from this culture by updating pre-wedding photo shoots from matching T-shirts to full matching outfits for couples.

#2 - Afro-Pop Culture T-Shirts

Just like African-Americans made hip-hop a dress code, the custom T-shirt era has ushered a longing for expression of different African realities especially by urban African youths. Using personal motifs like hair-do, music and food in bold and unusual ways is now the new cool.

#3 - Boubous & Kaftans

Loose fitting garments worn by African men and women called Boubous or Kaftans have become a wardrobe staple all over the world. 

#4 – Tie & Dye

Cultures across the African continent have various tie and dye techniques and motifs signifying varying ideas. Today, these colorful tie-dye prints are a must-have for women all over the world.

#5 - Fringe Love

Traditional African fabrics like Kente. Akwete,  Asooke are woven using different types of threads. The ends of the threads are left to hang out as decorative elements at the base and sleeve of garments. The African fringe has a western cousin but the fringe love is universal.



#6 - Head Wraps

African head wraps are made from local fabric or Ankara prints and tied round the head in an intricate style. The trendy head wraps of today are sewn together as ready-made fashion accessories..


#7 - Wooden Jewelry

Jewelry made from utilitarian products like wood have their inspiration from African sculpting and carvings.


#8 - Neck Rings

African neck rings were worn by the South Ndebele of South Africa as part of their traditional dress and as a status symbol for the wearer. Today, statement gold chokers shaped like rings are a hot fashion trend.


#9 - Ankara Print

Though it is said that these prints were brought to Africa by Dutch textile manufacturers, it is the stylish use of these materials by Africans that popularized the fabric. It was Africans who requested for specific patterns to be printed and it was Africans who helped it evolve and popularized it; we made it ours.


#10 - Head to Toe Monochrome/Matching Sets

Going head-to-toe in one color or pattern is a fashion trend that has its roots in African fashion. Yards of fabric are given to tailors to make matching tops and bottoms for both men and women as day wear and occasion wear. The world has caught this monochrome bug.


The rise of the Afropolitan class means that there is a hunger for truly meaningful clothing that helps Africans in Diaspora connect with their roots. How can you play your part? Seek out small independent designers and/or brands and patronize them because by doing this you are strengthening the systems and supporting designers both in Africa and in the Diaspora. Looking for where to shop authentic African designs with global spice? Check out Joe Stylee. Do you know other authentic African brands? Please share in the comments.

Leave a comment