If you are Black, a person of African descent, or you live in Africa, chances are you must have heard the adage, “God created Black people and Black people created style.” Indeed, you would be hard pressed to a find a truer claim ever made about Black people.
Throughout history, African people at home and in the Diaspora have led style revolutions that have been felt all over the world. From the coquettish gracefulness of Cleopatra to the multi-generational influence of singer James Brown, Black people have shown repeatedly that nobody does it better when it comes to matters of style, elegance, and the kind of natural flair that never goes out of fashion.
We compiled a list of some of the most stylish indigenous tribes on the African continent.
Wodaabe (Niger, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria)
The Wodaabe people are traditionally nomadic cattle-herders and traders who move around the Savannah in central and north western Africa. They are without a doubt one of the most stylish, self-preening, and fashion-centric people in the world. They are known for their elaborate attire and rich cultural ceremonies.
For the traditional Wodaabe, being stylish goes beyond catering to the desires of vanity. The customs of the tribe places a great deal of emphasis on personal beauty and charm. In popular culture, the Wodaabe are perhaps best known for the “Guérewol” festival, where intricately dressed young men in elaborate facial make-up, including feathers and beads, engage in a beauty contest of sorts as they jostle for the attention of the young women of marriageable age.
Yoruba (Nigeria, Benin, Togo)
The Yoruba people are a fun-loving and progressive tribe found in south west Nigeria and parts of Benin and Togo. They take pride in their traditional attire that features various patterns and styles. Traditional Yoruba clothing was made from cotton processed by traditional weavers.
Yoruba traditional designs are very gender sensitive. Men wear free flowing gowns, baggy trousers, and matching caps, while women wear short blouses, a matching wrapper, and a head tie known as “gele.” The head gear of the Yoruba woman has gone on to become perhaps one of the most iconic style items of contemporary West African fashion.
Fulani (Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Chad, Mauritania)
Among the traditional Fulani, a tribe with perhaps the widest geographical dispersion in all of Africa, men and women wear white cotton fabric adorned with intricate embroidery featuring a combination of primary colors.
The women decorate their hair with a collection of beaded accessories, cowries, and coins. For their part, men wear a distinctive colorful hat that is both aesthetic and practical.
The traditional Fulani favor the heavy usage of henna, a strong natural dye that leaves black marks on the skin. The henna dye is used to draw temporary tattoos across the feet, palms, and face.
Zulu ( South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique)
When it comes to style the Zulu never disappoint. From their kraals to their clothing, the Zulu are in love with bright vibrant colors. In fact, traditional Zulu dressing incorporates nearly every color in the rainbow.
In traditional Zulu society, a woman’s choice of dress communicates her marital status. Unmarried women typically wear a short skirt made from colorful beads, while those engaged wear the same beaded skirt, but with an accompanying matching bib also made of beads draped across her neck. Married women are however fully clothed.
Men sport a colorful combination of exotic animal skin and feathers that is indicative of their status, rank, and age. Young men wear short knee-length skirts made out of cow’s hide, while older men wear a slightly longer version of the same outfit. The Zulu king and his supporting chiefs wear leopard skin and exotic bird feathers.
This list would be incomplete without the Maasai. The nomadic tribe from Kenya is famous for their love and dedication to their cattle. The main garment worn by the Maasai (male or female) is the “shuka,” which is basically a long piece of clothing that can be worn in a several ways depending on the choice of the wearer. Often red or brown with black stripes, the shuka also doubles as a blanket, protecting the herdsmen from harsh weather.
In traditional Maasai style, the adult women wrap their shuka made of tartan material around their bodies in a manner of their choosing, while adorning their necks with wide collars made from the most intricately arranged colorful beads. They also wear long earrings and show off their arms with a collection of bracelets.
Maasai men also wear a shuka and are eager to show off their braided hair, earrings, bracelets, the feathers on their caps, and their lion manes, which signify bravery and achievement a man’s achievements as a skilled hunter and warrior.