The origin of african prints Loinchloths and its popularity in Africa can be traced back to the mid-1800s, when a Dutch company, now called Vlisco, traded it in the coastal towns of West Africa. Since then, the fabric has become a staple of African fashion.
A must in African fashion, the tradition of Dutch wax is a reflection of contemporary history.
In most major markets in West and Central Africa, in some local clothing stores or even online, it is easy to buy bags or shoes from Michelle Obama or even pencils from ( Kwame) Nkrumah.
Except these really aren’t items that the former first lady of the United States wore or Ghana’s first president wore. They’re not even real shoes, real handbags, or real pencils.
However, during a mid-morning shopping trip one of these days last January 2022, Hawa Diallo and Naa Ayorkor Tetteh roamed the crowded aisles of the HLM market in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, in search of good business on any of these items. The market is reputed to be the mecca for fabrics of all kinds.
In fact, the shoes, handbags or pencils after which the two friends were only names, admittedly popular, of loincloths with particular patterns and colors – specific to one of the long-established clothing materials and most common in West and Central Africa: a 100% cotton fabric, colorful and with a fairly elaborate design, commonly called “Dutch wax”, “ankara” or “kitenge”.
African prints Loincloths examples and prices
“Extremely variegated, densely structured and incredibly fabulous”; thus Sara Archer, an art writer, described “Dutch wax” in her 2016 feature for Hyperallergic, an American online art and culture magazine. At the time, the fabric and the fashion it inspired were featured in an official exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, an American city about an hour and a half drive from New York.
The origin of printed fabric and its popularity in Africa can be traced back to the mid-1800s, when a Dutch company, now called Vlisco, traded it in the coastal towns of West Africa. Since then, the fabric has become a staple of African fashion, which explains us well the origin of the african prints Loincloths.
The designation “Dutch wax” appeared at this time. Today, it is used to identify any printed fabric of similar appearance, regardless of manufacturer or printing technique.
Over the past decade, the fabric’s popularity has spilled over to the mainland. It has spread particularly among the African diaspora and African-American communities in the United States.
But beyond fashion, this unique tradition of naming patterns as they hit the market has made it one of the best chronicles of historical and contemporary events, reflecting social or celebrating social rites of passage.
1. African women fashion
The same models may have different names in different countries.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for example, Angelina is called “Ya Mado” because dancers in a video for the song wore the motif.
Another motif, commonly known as cha cha cha, evokes the legendary Congolese rumba tune from the 1960s entitled “Independence cha cha”. In Ghana, the same design is called Senchi Bridge, after a suspension bridge over the Volta River that pitches as you cross it. In neighboring Togo, cha cha cha is called “back of the chameleon”.
In the DRC, Ghana and Togo, these names mark events in everyday life or in history, reflecting important stages such as independence or the end of the war; changes in fortune or personal circumstances and more.
For a long time, women were the biggest consumers of loincloths because they allowed them to have simple garments made – usually a two-piece skirt and top, or a top, bottom and third waist piece or shoulder.
Men most often made simple shirts or a set consisting of a top and trousers worn on special occasions.
But “it’s not at all the same,” explains from South Africa, Tanya Kagnaguine, a fashion designer based in Johannesburg. “It is no longer a question of traditional two or three-piece suits. But new contemporary designs capable of competing with ready-to-wear”.
These new models, which Tanya calls “afrochic”, are a combination of traditional African designs and contemporary innovations.