WHAT IS A DASHIKI?
The term dashiki is coming up a lot in fashion communities; with celebrities like Beyonce, Zendaya and Jhene Aiko wearing Dashikis for photo shoots and during interviews, it is hard to miss.
However not many people know what a dashiki actually is, where it originates from, and its cultural significance to the men and women who wear them all over the world. Here is a quick dashiki go to on everything a woman and men need to know about this unique garment!
The dashiki is a colorful robe that can reach the thigh or go to ankle length. It is a garment that has its origins in West Africa but is now worn all over the world mainly by black women. It can be worn for formal or informal occasions and has become so popular that people all over the world are looking and wanting to wear dashikis.
HISTORY IN AMERICAUp until the 20th century, the practice of repressing and oppressing Africans and black Americans was commonplace, so much so that when black men and women stood up and claimed their heritage, through music or clothing or political statements, it was radical. It was especially radical when Civil Rights leaders such as Malcolm X embraced their African identity, leading others around the world to follow suit. It is still happening today; institutional racism still exists and the rise of violent white supremacists continues to be a dangerous issue for all black Americans.
The history of the dashiki in America is one of repression and oppression. Since the moment that Africans, enslaved against their will and made to leave everything they know behind, stepped foot in America and other countries, they were forced to wear Western clothing, forget their languages, renounce their religion, and recognize that they would never go home to their continent.
It did not stop at a fight for freedom and equality in the 20th century; black Americans had been political for over a hundred years. No, the fight was to embrace their identity, understand their history, and remain connected or build a connection to Africa. That meant that literature, art, music and clothing underscored the black culture that had been building for centuries and that included clothing.
Many experts claim that the use of dashiki in the mainstream or as a political statement decreased after the Civil Rights Act was passed in the late 1960s; however, the widespread use of the garment continues today. Major black artists, musicians, actors and models wear the dashiki proudly, they are featured in fashion magazines, worn in films, and styled on the street by black Americans throughout the country.
History in Africa
West Africans have been wearing dashikis since the 12th century. It can be worn either as a formal or informal piece of clothing, making it a highly versatile and desirable way to show off your African Heratge and melanin pride. In fact, there are several versions of dashikis that can be found.
Grooms in West Africa wear a dashiki that incorporates purple and grey into the color scheme. It is worn with a kufi cap and a pair of “Sokoto,” which are drawstring pants. It is known as a “danshiki suit” and is very popular for weddings.
Two other formal sets are also popular. The Senegalese kaftan is like the danshiki suit; the only difference is that the dashiki reaches the wearer’s ankles. A third version is known as an “agbada” or “grand boubou” and consists of a dashiki, matching drawstring pants, and a flowing gown. Both sets, when worn in red or black colors, are used for funerals.
Informal dashikis also exist and can be made from lace for a different look. Women often wear dashikis or a hybrid of dashiki and caftan; both are paired with pants or a western skirt. These are often found in clothing stores and come in a wide array of colors and sets, providing women with a variety of options when it comes to fashion.
However, the most popular dashiki for women is called the “Angelina print,” so named after a Ghanaian highlife group that released the song “Angelina,” which made references to the print. It was traditionally worn by the Hausa people of Northern Ghana for formal events, it is now widely worn throughout the country. It has even made its way to America, where popular singers such as Beyoncé and Rihanna have both been pictured in the print.
As both Significance in political and cultural statement, the dashiki remains a piece of black identity, not just in America, but worldwide. While the significance of the dashiki changes depending on who’s wearing it, just the simple act of wearing the garment is one of pride.
For black women, the dashiki is all about pride: for Africa, their heritage, and themselves. Black women have repeatedly been told that black beauty and fashion is not as beautiful as Western norms, a notion that is not only ridiculous but also insulting! Wearing the dashiki and styling to demonstrate who they are and where they ancestors came from provides them with a space to discuss black identity and fashion as a point of pride and heritage.
Origins and History
The origin of dashiki is an interesting one its a source of black pride. The origins of this tunic can be found in West Africa, where it was popular due to the lightweight fabric; workers could wear it and be comfortable in the heat. While it began as a source of work clothing for men, women adopted it and now dashikis are made for both genders. Archaeological digs in Mali have uncovered similar pieces of clothing in the Dogon burial caves in the country, a sacred site that dates to the 12th century.
The word “dashiki” has its place in black history, specifically the languages that permeate the African continent; the term comes from the Yoruba word “danshiki,” which was borrowed from the Hausa phrase “dan ciki.” Both terms mean “underneath” or “inner garment.” Dashiki is named as such because in African traditions, the tunic is worn under a “babban riga,” which is a Hausa term that means “outer garment” or “robe.”
Cultural Status helped by movies like Black Panther
The dashiki is a source of black pride all over the world. Every year, during Black History month, sales for the dashiki go through the roof. Many Africans from different countries can be seen sporting the dashiki tunic during celebrations during the month, from London to New York to Barbados and beyond all over the world.
But the dashiki is not only worn during Black history month. In fact, many women see it as a source of melanin pride to wear it daily or incorporate their version of the dashiki into their style. From street style ,celebrities and models to actors and musicians, black women and men are now embracing the dashiki and their African heritage.
Dashikis are now found in high fashion brands, on the street, or made by DIY Youtube stars. The colors are being discussed in forums and on social media, showing those who are not African what the dashiki, its colors and patterns means to those who wear it. There are actually full videos describing what the dashiki is and how to sew one for yourself, making it a source of pride to those who want to pick out their own patterns and make their garment by hand.
Perhaps the best-known example of dashiki hitting the mainstream in a way that caught Americans’ attention was the Black Panther film premiere ( I loved that movie by the way) . The cast of the Marvel movie Black Panther all wore dashikis or other traditional African prints, showing Americans from all cultures the power and significance that these garments have in their own country. Showcasing a wide variety of colors, patterns, and garments, the film’s cast provided Americans with a close look at the history of Africa through their garments. Chadwick Boseman , Michael B. Jordan , Lupita Nyong’o ,Daniel Kaluuya all wore the Dashiki Garments showcasing them all over the world with each premier of the movie gaining popularity again in the main stream America.
That film premiere has reignited an interest in African prints and garments, including the dashiki. While many people from different cultures wear a dashiki, it is a uniquely African style, one that has unfortunately been culturally appropriated by those who do not understand the cultural, political and historical significance that the garment represents. However, more black women are embracing as they claim their heritage and return to their roots.
The wearing of a dashiki is a source of black pride, proving that embracing your melanin is becoming a sense of fashion is popular and will remain in the mainstream. However, it is how a black woman wears the dashiki that will set her apart, ensuring that her individuality mixes well with her culture and heritage. Now is the time to seek out a dashiki and see how it can be incorporated for everyday wear.