As you can tell, we have a strong appreciation for African-inspired fashion and we proudly present that in our decisions for what we make available in our shop. Advance Apparels is full of beautiful designs of African fashion that we want to make more easily accessible to those of you who would like to dress in these designs. A part of appreciating clothing with such strong cultural ties is understanding where it came from and how people wear it today. The way that something is treated when it is first introduced to the world is not often the same way that it is treated years and years down the line.
We can look at African skirts as one such example of this, specifically the Ankara African skirts that we love so much. These beautiful garments have quite the history behind them that can tell an interesting and curious tale. This is a story that we would gladly share with you. There is so much more to these garments and the fabric used to make them than you would probably think. You may be surprised with the information we have to show you about how the African skirts we know and love took form. From the creation of the fabric to the meaning behind the skirts today, here is a look at how these skirts came to be.
What is Ankara Fabric?
Ankara fabric, the material used in many of the skirts at Advance Apparels, is a traditional type of fabric used widely in African style, especially in West Africa. You may also know it by some of its many other names such as African wax prints, Kitenge, Dutch wax prints, or simply African prints. It is made by applying wax to cotton fabric in order to mark out the intended design on either side of the fabric. Dye is then applied to the material and the fabric is brought to life using color. The areas that received the wax application do not hold onto the color, whereas the remaining parts take on the new colors. It is a careful, lengthy process with many steps involved, but it is certainly worth the effort to see the beautiful fabrics emerge in the end.
History of Ankara Fabrics
While African wax prints are certainly associated with West African culture, you might be surprised to learn that the textile is not entirely an African creation. The method used to create wax prints is known as batik and comes from Indonesia originally. You may have wondered why this print is also known as Dutch wax prints. Well, there is a reason for that as well if you look at how the fabric moved across continents. In the nineteenth century, as the Netherlands began colonizing Indonesia, the Dutch took note of the impressive batik fabric. It was beautiful and just out of their hands since they discovered they were not able to manufacture the material themselves at the same level of quality. They relied on Indonesian craftsmen to create the fabric which they would then bring to port in West Africa for sale.
The fabrics were beautiful and suited the tastes of the people there, so they became widespread and eventually became a common sighting in Africa. West Africans were happy to adopt these textiles and the motifs they carried, into their own cultures and naturally integrated them into their ordinary clothing. They did this to the point that it almost seemed as if the fabric was always there. As if it had been in their possession for centuries upon centuries rather than some number of decades. Even now, many would not expect that Ankara fabric has Indonesian origins because of its strong association with Africa. The material is African in a sense, but not entirely. This is a great example of fully distinct cultures coming together over a mutual appreciation of their art.
Where Do the Bright Colors Come From?
African clothing is normally associated with bright, vibrant colors and beautiful, carefully designed prints. These things are common sightings in traditional African fashions for both men and women. They are amazing just from an aesthetic standpoint, but when you look closer and learn more about this style of fabric, you see that there was more to it all than you realized. The colors of African print clothing hold their own, special meaning that most people outside of Africa would not know about. Each one of the colors you see in African skirts, dresses, etc. has its own meaning that the wearer may be representing or putting out into the world as a message about themselves and their familial or cultural heritage.
While the meanings may differ a bit from country to country, generally the colors hold similar meanings. For example, if you see African women wearing skirts with a largely blue pattern, then they could be using it to promote peace, unity, and love. Blue represents the sky and all of the people coming together under it in harmony. Colors hold meaning for special occasions and could be worn to match the significance of the event. The patterns themselves are not excluded in this either. Certain designs could hold meaning as the people who wear them feel inspired by the clothing and create a concept or a message to go with a common print.
This form of visual communication allows them to speak or express themselves in a very special way that can only be understood by those who know what to look for. They can say something without saying a single word. Communities will often wear the same particular design as a group for special events like weddings, birthdays, or funeral service in order to express unity. Of course, this is not always the case and Ankara fabric can be worn without this subtle communication, but it is still interesting to know how much can be said through our clothing. This is a fun aspect of African print clothing that adds an additional layer of culture and meaning to the clothing one might wear on a normal day.
What Does This Fabric Mean Today?
As we have seen, these printed fabrics are not native to Africa but have become ingrained in the culture during the time it has been there. It has become a staple fabric that is easily found and readily available in West Africa, so people who are from there will still welcome it as their own. This has given the rest of the world a very strong image of Ankara fabric, seeing it as a part of African culture and any use of it acts as a reference to that. It will be recognized immediately as being a symbol of that culture. To wear an Ankara African fashion skirt these days is to openly embrace African art and culture. It is to welcome the beauty of that part of the world and to say that you appreciate it enough to integrate it into your daily wardrobe. Wearing these skirts and this fabric is a celebration of culture.
With African art and fashion receiving more attention in recent years, the general public is getting a better look at these styles and is being exposed to some designs possibly for the first time. With these styles gaining attention and popularity in other countries, they are calling out to the culture it represents in a very heart-warming way. It is endearing to see so many people fall in love with these prints and wearing African skirts regularly, just as they would any other type of skirt. As more people discover these styles and see how they could adopt them into their own wardrobes, we see more takes on the styles, mixing older fashions with newer ones seamlessly, as if there was never a divide at all. Those who have family hailing from these countries can pay tribute to their own cultural heritage by wearing these garments, even if they live in a country where these styles are less common. Culture is shared and welcomed.
What We Hope to See in the Future
In the future, as African styles enter into the lives of many around the world, we hope to see the styles continue to evolve and inspire. It would be amazing to see people feel inspired by the designs of the fabrics and potentially create new, innovative designs that speak to a younger audience of consumers. We can already imagine the sorts of outfits people could come up with wearing African skirts, that combine their personal styles with the styles of afro-centric fashion. We already see some of this today as people purchase Advance Apparels African skirts and build off of them to express their own personal tastes. We love seeing the creativity and clever thinking that goes into taking an individual garment and turning it into an entire ensemble that looks completely different from what the next person may do with that exact item.
Just as with other cultures, and other styles, the past influences the present. Traditional or old fashioned garments become the source of inspiration for many artists and individuals who respect and appreciate what has already been done, while simultaneously looking to create something new. With the use of social media, people are able to share their photos and ideas with the rest of the world more easily than ever before. People can show off the outfits they styled using African skirts and other garments and receive the same sort of content in their own feed. It would be fun seeing people express themselves creatively using our clothing and having a good time sharing that with others. As we see more modern stylings of these clothes and the latest African fashions hit the high fashion runways and the city streets, we will gladly celebrate the beautiful fashions we have always admired. Now, we look forward to what the future holds for these fashions, and we are confident that it will be a fantastic sight.
How African Skirts Can Fit Into Your Life
Let’s turn the tables here and see how you can make African skirts work in your life and wardrobe. These skirts are incredibly versatile and can be worn for a variety of occasions, events, and moods. If you want to dress up to go somewhere or dress down to go nowhere at all, an Ankara skirt can help pull your outfit together. Here are just a few ideas for how you can wear Ankara African skirts, but you can look to the blog on our website for more inspiration if you like.
Be ready for summer with a two-piece set featuring an Ankara skirt worn with a cropped top. Maxi skirts look especially stunning when paired with cropped tops because they balance out the more revealing top with extra fabric at the bottom. These skirts are made of lightweight and completely breathable cotton that is just perfect for the warmer weather. This sort of style is also something that you would see worn in Africa typically. You can explore our blouses and tank tops to help you put everything together into one ensemble. A matching headwrap and comfortable sandals will complete the outfit so you are left feeling absolutely comfortable and stylish.
African skirts are not just for casual outfits either. You can easily style one so that it is elegant and classic for any occasion you’d like to wear it to. We’d recommend picking a black and white skirt and wearing it with a black blouse to keep the look simple, with a bit of detail in the print. A longer skirt reads as more sophisticated and looks beautiful with a pair of heels. This sort of look has just the right amount of detail.
We hope that you learned a little more about Ankara African skirts after reading this piece. We just wanted to share our sincere love and appreciation for this fashion and we thought it would be best to discuss where these skirts came from, where they are now, and where we hope to see them in the future. If you would like to see more African skirts for yourself and see what the styles can do for you, then we’d like to encourage you to check out our offerings and find the ones that speak to you the strongest.