Style Destination: Africa

African culture is largely composed of three overlapping elements: dancing, spirituality, and survival.  While each country and continental region have traditional garb influenced by lifestyle necessity and historical invasion, there are certain commonalities threading the country’s stereotypical animal prints and bright colors.

Colors, in particular, represent more than aesthetical variation. For example, yellows, golds, and mustards traditionally represent wealth and fertility. Reds are tense with the blood of war and sacrifice.  Blue is peace, representing the color of sky where African lore states all creation was born. Green is medicinal symbolizing life and prosperity.

When European trade routes influenced African culture, Western designs permeated the footwear in sandals, slippers, and boots. Currently, most Africans wear foot coverings, and although many have access to modern innovation, the preference abounds for shoes made of natural materials (such as leather, fur, or plant fibers).

African culture also boasts a high tradition of beads and jewelry to enhance personal and ceremonial adornment. The three regions of the continent – the Equatorial region, the Savannah and the Sahara – individually contribute to the style and makeup of the jewelry pieces. Trade routes through these regions also played a significant part of available resources.

Here’s a look inspired by customary African fashion suitable for any gal. Pillage thrift stores, second hand shops, even antique or farmer’s markets for patterned textiles. Feel free to switch up the patterns and colors, but remember “Brighter is better.” And we’re talking true brights, not neon! The next time you need a break from the American hipster, try some Africa.

• For starters, pick a multicolored patterned top that is an assortment of sizes and shapes.  The fabric should be thin and blowy. Try “hippie” shops too, but no tie-dyes here, stick with geometric or animal patterns. Remember, Africa is known for its sweltering heat so short sleeves or sleeveless is a must.

• Taking your favorite color in the top, find a long solid skirt that reaches your ankles. At best, it’ll be a wrap sarong without too much knot-bulge at the top. Fasten with safety pins for a modern “grunge” twist. Again, keep the fabric light and gusty.

• Your feet should have some kind of straps on them. Sandals, sandals, sandals!  Zippers are okay, but pure leather and straps are most authentic.

• Accessorize with long or drop earrings the same color as your skirt. The bolder, the better… but be semi-conscious of size in proportion to your face. Again, chunky is safe.

• African women are known for their wrist and neck bangles, thanks to National Geographic’s stunning photos and popular modern fashion. Use a variety of rustic woods and gold to bind your arm in these beautiful trimmings.

• Instead of chic leather, opt for a woven handbag of grass or reeds. None of grandma’s wicker. Stick to straw totes and shopper bags found at Target and most department stores, especially around summer.

• Finally, African women typically don’t don heavy makeup as an everyday routine. Saving the colors for your clothes, keep your face neutral and try a deep raisin lip color for contrast.