Women in Fashion and Textiles
- MacKenzie Moon RyanMacKenzie Moon RyanDepartment of Art History, Rollins College
Women have long played a large role in the production and consumption of fashion and textiles in Africa. Women spin, weave, dye, embroider, and otherwise create textiles using specific technologies. They also adorn themselves in jewelry, beadwork, and headwear; some also choose to veil. Women serve as designers and seamstresses to tailor clothing from textiles, and the dominant buyers and sellers of textiles are women. As such, textiles and clothing play a defining role in women’s wealth. Textiles often feature prominently at momentous occasions throughout the lives of women, for example at adolescent rites, engagement and marriage, births of children, and as burial shrouds. Women use dress practices—including wrapped textiles, tailored clothing, and personal adornment—to display aspects of their identities.
Research has explored women’s varied roles related to textiles and fashion in Africa since the late 19th century. Women in the colonial era used their clothing choices to take advantage of new opportunities and contest long-standing and newly introduced strictures. During the independence era, struggles for freedom and nationalism informed clothing practices. A rise of women fashion designers in the mid-20th century paved the way for contemporary proliferations in both everyday and high fashion apparel. From accessible secondhand clothing to exclusive runway collections, African women in the 21st century continue to innovate in dress practices, which demonstrates African women’s creativity and dedication to style at all social strata. Therefore, how women in Africa have dressed themselves in fashion and textiles illuminate women’s agency.