East Africa: “The dress”
By Pharis Disi
Hofstra Cultural Centre in New York puts it that dressing is a critical aspect of our day to day lives, people establish their place in the society as well as their self . The connection between dress both personal and group identities proceed to be of interest to stakeholders in fashion.
But in Kenya, what exactly does our clothing as East Africans say about our culture? See, clothes not only cover human nakedness, but speak volumes about our lives, about our traditions. For instance, in Kenya and the East African Coast, Kanzu is the traditional cloth worn by Swahili Men. Women on the other side put on kanga (lesos).
Another culture of interest is the Maasai culture. Maasai Women Typically put on plate like beard necklaces and multicolored wraps (kangas/lesos). The men drape themselves in red shukas and carry a ball headed club. According to the Maa community, red symbolizes power.
But the above examples only talk of the traditional Kenyan communities. But what about our contemporary society? What are our people wearing, and what does it speak about us? Dressing has stopped being just a matter of covering our nakedness, it has become a way of life, a trend. That’s why fashion has developed.
At least for the elderly, dressing has changed much. But among the millennials, it is different. Clothing is peer influenced, social class-motivated and not just a matter of convenience. It is for this reason that we hear someone say, “Hii nguo inanitoa aje?” (How do I look in this outfit?). We are more worried about the impression our clothes make than anything else. We get into a frenzy when shopping for clothes, often on impulse.
Everyone out there wants to look sophisticated, rich and impressive. Everyone is seeking recognition. All this through dressing. The way we dress often sends signals to others about us. Are we rich, confident, well prepared, mature etc.
This is the reason why we have very different ways in which individuals dress. We have the conservatives, and we have the ‘my dress my choice’ individuals. And more is to come from the rapidly growing fashion industry. We understand that everyone is entitled to their own model of dressing, and we cannot help but notice.