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The Dashiki - African Fashion and a Cultural Symbol for African Americans


In America, African Americans wear dashikis to celebrate black history month in February. It is not uncommon to see a dashiki worn with jeans, shorts, skirts or as gowns. Dashikis are also worn with cowrie necklaces, dreadlocks, afro, corn rows and even animal print. During this season there is a fusion of African fashion with African American fashion.

What’s the connection between the dashiki and African Americans? Is the dashiki just some traditional African clothing? Is it merely a form of African American fashion?

Read on to find out.

The Origins of the Dashiki

The dashiki is an African traditional clothing that originates from West Africa as far back as 1970. The name dashiki originates from Nigeria. Dashiki is coined from the Yoruba word danshiki which is used to describe the loose fitting pullover worn for comfort during the heat.

Dashiki is also coined from the Hausa word dan ciki, meaning underneath, a clothe worn underneath large robes by Hausa men. In Ghana and Congo it is called Angelina. The dashiki is a loose colorful garment with an embroidered or plain V-neck and short sleeves, and covering the top part of the body.

The dashiki has both formal and informal versions. The informal version is the most popular because of its comfort, versatility amd simplicity.

The formal version includes the dashiki suit which consists of a dashiki, drawstring trousers (shokoto) and a cap. Other formal versions include the Senegalese Kaftan and the Agbada or grand bou bou.

Dashiki as African Fashion

The breathable cotton material, looseness, short sleeves and V-neck makes the dashiki a comfortable clothe for the tropical climate in West Africa.  Apart from its comfort, the dashiki is fashionable and versatile enough to be worn with jeans, shorts, skirts and leggings. Interestingly,  the dashiki is usually matched with American clothing and design, for example jeans. Dashiki is universally worn as African clothing for both men and women.

Apart from a loose fitting shirt, the dashiki material is used to make prom dresses, midi and maxi dresses, pants, shorts and skirts. The dashiki material is also used to make hoodies, sweaters, pullovers, hats, purses, bags, chokers, ties and scarves.

Dashiki as a Cultural Symbol for African Americans

The dashiki is a strong cultural symbol for African Americans and Africans in the diaspora. The vibrant colour, looseness and bold designs of the dashiki symbolise freedom, and African Americans identity with their African heritage.

African Americans began wearing the dashiki as far back as in the1970’s, in an attempt to break out from mainstream fashion, racism, white supremacy and Western cultural norms. Back then,  the dashiki wasn’t a fashion statement, it was an undeniably political move for Black Resistance.

Just like the afro, the corn row or the pumped fist, the dashiki was strongly affiliated with the Civil Rights Movement and Black Panther Movement. After that, the dashiki was rapidly imbibed into black culture. It has been featured in movies, TV shows and worn by athletes, civil rights activists, politicians,  musicians and entertainers.

However, the political fervour of the dashiki began waning in the late 60’s when it became a fashion item for white counter culture groups who were more interested in the beauty of the garment than its identify with blackness. Retailers began importing the dashiki from other continents to satisfy the demand.

The dashiki has also been identified with famous black musicians like Beyonce, Rihanna, Wiz Khalifa, Jhene Aiko and Chris Brown. This incidence has caused some black intellectuals to fear if the dashiki is being reduced to some pop culture stereotype.

On the bright side, the dashiki is commonly worn during Black History Month, Kwanzaa and other afro centric events. During the release of Black Panther, lots of African Americans wore the dashiki to cinemas, taking pictures as they made the iconic Wakanda Forever pose from the 2018 Black Panther movie.

This shows the strong symbolic value the dashiki has for African Americans and Africans in the diaspora. For them, the dashiki is not just a form of African American fashion. The dashiki also gives them a connection to their African root and heritage. The dashiki also provides a non verbal but strongly conspicuous way for them to demonstrate their pride in their cultural roots and beliefs.

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