The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of any society are in constant flux. Nowadays, concerning the diversification of gender identities, cultural and societal change is not only necessary but also inevitable. In Africa, cultural change based on the deconstruction of gender norms has adopted a new manifestation; fashion.
African clothing has a long history of visually distinguishing between the male and female sex. Up until a decade ago, any swapping of clothing between genders was seen as taboo and those who dared to venture into the wardrobe of the opposite sex were consciously subjecting themselves to societal scrutiny. In short, there was no intermingling between men’s and women’s fashion and no room for self-expression. Clothing simply functioned as a means of social labelling.
DECONSTRUCTING GENDER NORMS THROUGH AFRICAN FASHION
Clothing is an important part of one’s identity. It serves as a medium for creative self-expression through the different colours, materials, patterns, and styles one can choose to wear. Today’s African fashion designers face the challenge of transcending traditional clothing norms to create a modern style accounting for people with diverse identities. Through remodelling African fashion, designers – such as Nigerian ‘Orange Couture’ designer Adebayo Oke Lawal, ‘Maxivive’ designer Papa Oyeyemi, and South African young top designer Lukhanyo Mdingi – break down gender stereotypes and create endless possibilities for self-expression for both men and women. Women are free to express their masculine side in a tailored suit and jacket combo, while men are encouraged to show off their femininity by wearing silks, patterns, frills, and tassels. Blending patterns and styles of traditional African clothing with a contemporary perspective, African gender-fluid fashion has gained momentum in the global fashion sphere, leading to the revolutionization of societal gender norms.
CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN AFRICAN FASHION
African fashion is becoming increasingly open to influence from other cultures, especially western styles. In the past, African fashion was strictly contained within the confines of traditional conceptions of style, stunting any progress in creativity and self-expression through fashion. Nowadays, through a blend of multicultural elements, African fashion not only honours traditional cultural identities within Africa but also showcases traditional styles from many other countries. The fashion revolution in Africa has paved the way for cultural and societal change, inspiring a transformation of fashion norms all over the world.