All About Ankara Dresses

Followers of popular trends will no doubt be familiar with the strikingly bold patterns of African dresses and other fabrics and garments that imitate the style. West African patterns have gained a strong fashion following from the versatility and objective beauty of their designs.

You might recognize the style by description more readily than by name, especially since the name varies so wildly. You know the look - bolt, bright colors, natural and geometric motifs with sharp lines, and vivid, minute details. They’re categorized by their sharp contrast and vibrant nature, often making the most of contrasting colors. Commonly known as African or Ankara dresses, there are many names to which you may have heard this style of fashion referred.

This fashion also lays claim to a rich, long history and has been growing in popularity. At Advance Apparels, we’re proud to offer you some of the finest designs in this school of fashion!

So what is this unique style of clothing, where did it come from and why does it have so many names?

A Rose by Any Other Name

Believe it or not, Ankara fashion has many, many other names. Sometimes they are called by the name of West African dresses or West African fashion, but that name is slightly nonspecific. Ankara dresses, or the fabric from which they are made, specifically, may also be called chitenge (or kitenge), African Wax Prints, Dutch Wax Prints, and occasionally as Holland Wax Prints.

All of these names refer to the same type of design and fabric; but to be specific, Ankara fabric is a type of fabric, typically 100% cotton, to which a wax-resist dyeing method is applied in order to produce the final, colorful effect for which Ankara fashion is known.

Ankara: Not Just the Capital of Turkey!

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I’ve heard about this before,” it’s because you probably have. Ankara is actually the modern capital of Turkey, also known for its alternative spelling Angora. If that sounds familiar as well, it may be because Angora is also a grade of superfine wool produced from rabbits. In this case, however, it is incidental and not related.

As for the names that bring to mind Dutch influence, like Dutch Wax and Holland Wax, there’s a reason for that as well. There is actually a very interesting history associated with these types of fabric that is the reason for all of these names.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Holland was one of the preeminent colonial powers, with a vast and global influence over trade and the dispersal of cultural influence. If you’ve ever heard of the term “Dutch East India Trading Company,” it’s because that conglomerate was one of the most powerful merchant organizations in the world up until the beginning of the 1800s. The Netherlands had vast colonial sway in the New World, in the Caribbean, in Indonesia, in Africa, and elsewhere around the world.

It is actually due to the influence of the Netherlands in Indonesia that “African Prints” actually became so popular. This is because the method of producing Ankara fabric actually did not originate in Africa, despite its popularity there.

When Dutch colonial influence spread to Indonesia, traders and merchants came in contact with a style of fabric that is known as batik, which was and is still produced by hand in Indonesia and elsewhere around the world. If you’ve never been formally introduced to batik clothing, don’t look now or you may do a double-take. It is very similar in character to Ankara fabric.

Batik, like Ankara, is characterized by bold, striking colors and patterns that are produced by wax-resist dyeing (more on that below). The Dutch sailors and soldiers loved it, brought some of it home with them, and started developing techniques to produce it more affordably and efficiently than the traditional methods that were used in its place of origin.

While these new techniques never gained popularity in Indonesia, the patterns were immensely popular elsewhere that Colonial Holland held sway, particularly in their West African colonies. In fact, the designs were so popular that they started being produced in West African. Over the years, their prevalence there increased to the point that they adopted the name of “African Wax” or “West African Wax.”

Characteristics of Ankara Dresses

Ankara fabric is not simply bright and colorful. Though any fabric produced according to the same methods might be rightly called Ankara fabric, there are a couple of commonalities that can be observed with some familiarity with the school of fashion.

Patterning is the hallmark of Ankara fabric, and these are some of the common trends in pattern you might observe with a little more insight and observation:

Natural motifs: Natural motifs and themes are common in Ankara fabric, many of these being lifted from animal, floral or geological inspiration. Patterns derived from the influence of animal prints are common, along with representations of leaves, feathers, flowers, and possibly even shells. It’s also common to see colors of land and sky reflected in Ankara fabrics; the oranges and reds of the sunset, the tan, ocher tones of the Earth, and the bright verdure of foliage.

Celestial motifs: Patterns and colors representing the sky and the heavens are also not uncommon in Ankara fabrics. Many popular motifs conjure up images of stars and starbursts, both in bright and neutral colors.

Geometric motifs: In addition to some of the overarching motifs and themes detailed above, you’re going to come across a wide variety of patterns in Ankara fabric that seem to have taken their influence from geometry. Patterning is one of the staples of Ankara fabric and there’s no shortage of repeating shapes, curves, angles, and patterns in the movement.

How It’s Made

Now that you have some more familiarity with the origins of Ankara fabric, some of its other names, and common patterns, you’ll see represented by it, you might be wondering how it’s made.

It’s already been detailed that the original Ankara fabrics were patterned after the influence of batik clothing, which is still produced by hand around the world. Batik and Ankara fabric are both made in very similar methods using a technique that is known as wax-resist dyeing.

First, of course, the cloth needs to be produced and prepared. Typically, only 100% cotton fabric is used for this style of dying, although, in other traditions, silk and other natural fibers have been used. These natural fibers respond well both to the waxes and dyes applied to them.

Oftentimes, the craftsman producing the Ankara will prepare a sponge block beforehand. These blocks have patterns carved into their surfaces and facilitate the application of wax to the fabric.

With the fabric, block, and other tools prepared, the craftsmen will then melt wax; several grades of wax can be used and some craftsmen guard these methods closely. Then the wax is applied either using these block templates or by pouring using a special device; both sides of the fabric should be treated.

Wax, which is a hydrophobic material, naturally repels the water-based dyes used in the process; once the wax has been applied, the cloth is placed into a dye bath. The dye adheres to the fabric that is free of wax. When the colors have set, boiling water is applied to the fabric, which melts and removes the wax. This wax can then be saved and repurposed for future use.

This is the first stage of producing Ankara fabric. At this point, after the first dye bath and the removal of the first wax treatment, the cloth will be colored where the dye was applied and bare where the wax was present. At this stage, the craftsman can apply another, overlaying pattern to the fabric using the same wax.

The cloth can then be redyed and retreated in several stages to produce garments of varying colors and complexity, in accordance with the vision of the craftsman. At certain stages in the process, wax that remains on the fabric may be manipulated by hand or a machine that will produce interesting patterns of bubbling and cracking; in some instances, the fabric may even be dyed by hand.

When it’s all said and done and the wax has been washed out, you have a garment exhibiting the beautiful colors and styling of West African Wax Printing!

Bold and Versatile Ankara Dresses

Ankara dresses are popular, undoubtedly, for their complex, undeniable beauty. Few other forms of fabric production yield such bright designs and subtle interplay of elements. Whether you’re just looking for a beautiful, original dress to grace your wardrobe through the summer months or want to learn more about how you can pair it up, Advance Apparels is your source for inspiration!

In the hotter months, an Ankara dress is just begging to be matched with a compatible pair of sandals or a neutral pair of flats that won’t compete with the bright, eye-catching nature of the dress. Some also pair them with heels; that’s your call!

Some people also like the look of plain fabric as an accessory or a compliment to Ankara fabric. With so much movement and color present in Ankara styling, competition is not always a pleasant accent. For that reason, some critics choose to accessorize with supporting hats, bags, and footwear that are plainly styled and don’t take the spotlight away from their Ankara centerpiece.

Those who take an interest in Bohemian fashion will also find a place in their hearts (and their closets) for Ankara designs! Bohemian fashion, characterized widely by natural tones, vivid movement, and clashing, eye-catching elements, is beloved by self-professed free-spirits everywhere. Originally inspired by the European Bohemians whose camps and wardrobes made the most of whatever they could find and repurpose, today Bohemian fashion has become a corner where many beautiful elements can come together and find unlikely pairings. The bright colors, smart details, and intricate patterns of Ankara fabric will be right at home in the tastes of many with a preference for Bohemian fashion.

If you’re looking for additional ways to accessorize or to round out your interest in this school of fashion, remember that Ankara fabric can be used to make other beautiful garments and not just dresses! Ankara can be used to produce shirts, pants, upholstery, and even handbags!

Don’t Miss Our Other Unique and Sustainable Fashion

In addition to our wonderful Ankara dresses and other beautiful African-inspired fabrics and clothing, we also provide a diverse line of sustainable fashion for eco-conscious shoppers.

Many of our sustainable items are produced from 100% Tencel fabric, which is made from recycled plant materials using processes that are environmentally sound and not harmful.

We don’t simply use it to great effect to produce beautiful, memorable designs, but the fabric itself is perfect for warm to hot climates; like cotton, Tencel is an excellent temperature regulator and helps to keep moisture under control as well.

Make sure you don’t miss a chance to investigate our collection of sustainable fashion to learn more about this unique material and see what types of inspiring designs we create using it!

Quality and Reliability: Our Calling Cards

Whether you’ve come here looking for the latest Ankara styles or other high-quality African print dresses, Advance Apparels has all that and more to love. Make sure you take some time to get familiar with the above collections, and if you have any questions about our African clothing or other designs, get in touch with us at sales@advanceapparels.com.

All of our clothing, from our maxi dresses to our Batik dresses to our tie-dye tank tops, is produced in-house by skilled artisans using proven techniques and methods. We believe that the best things are still produced with an eye on detail and quality, and that’s why every single one of our dresses is still cut, stitched, and dyed individually. We know the quality is in the details, and that’s something we’ve striven to pass along to our customers from the start.

Get familiar with our styles of clothing and please feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or feel that we can be of assistance!