African and 1930s Trends

I love traditional African clothing, and I especially love how Africans have adapted it for today in a way that is obviously modern yet still undeniably African.  I've talked about East African kanga prints on the blog before, but there are so many other fashions included on the giant continent of Africa!  Each country and cultural group brings their own unique tastes to the table, and these have been highlighted in recent years at events like Africa Fashion Week.

While the countries I lived in have a more conservative Islamic/Middle Eastern style of clothing like the Sudanese tobe, today I'll focus on other regions of Africa, especially the western and southern regions, that feature bright traditional prints in bold silhouettes.

I've been intrigued at the similarity between these African silhouettes and those found in the West in the 1930s. I don't know that I'd say Western 1930s styles have directly influenced African styles; I think they just happen to have some similarities.  This works out beautifully for someone that loves an intercultural-vintage fusion outfit like I do!

Of course, there is a lot more diversity in African styles than what I will highlight here, but check out some of the ways modern African clothing is like 1930s clothing:

Mermaid Cuts

Flashback Summer: African and 1930s Trends - Intercultural vintage

Flashback Summer: African and 1930s Trends - Nigerian Wedding

Puff Sleeves

Flashback Summer: African and 1930s Trends - Ghana Dress


Flashback Summer: African and 1930s Trends - Intercultural vintage

Odetta Peplum Skirt (for sale!)
Flashback Summer: African and 1930s Trends - peplum skirt

Flashback Summer: African and 1930s Trends - Ankara dress

Box Sleeves


  1. I learned so much reading this post. I did not even know there was an Africa Fashion Week in New York. I follow the fashion weeks for China and India, but wow!

  2. I really enjoy these African fashions. There was an exhibition in the museum in the city where my brother lives showing how African and Caribbean culture had merged with the local English culture and there were some clothing items on display - I was really taken with the styles and colours. Interesting to see how they are reminiscent of 1930s styles as well.

  3. I love the bright, vibrant prints of these fashions. And I think the similarities between the styles and those of the 30's are so cool! Thanks for sharing!

    the Middle Sister and Singer

  4. This is really interesting! I'm kind of in love with some of the modern African garments, particularly the Demestiks suit. The classic shapes combined with the bold patterns and bright colors are stunning.

  5. Excellent observation and job on pairing similar silhouettes together. I know that I will think of this post often now whenever I see either of this strikingly wonderful branches of the fashion family tree.

    ♥ Jessica

  6. Those prints!!! They remind me a little of fabrics that Trashy Diva had many years back now, especially no.7. I love fashion that is inspired by other cultures but I have learned through the internet that depending on the person, that things can be perceived as racist. Much as I think its important to be sensitive and respectful, I do wonder what would be said if you or I were to wear one of these beautiful dresses. Perhaps we would be told that we are appropriating African culture in doing so. Anyhoo that is another can of worms!
    Thank you for sharing these photos, I loved this post!

    1. You're very right, it can be a tricky subject, especially as a white person wearing traditional clothing. I wore traditional clothing in Africa (often for modesty purposes), and know one ever seemed to have a problem with it. Quite the opposite, actually. I usually got cultural "bonus points" for doing it. Usually they were impressed that I dressed "appropriately" or excited that I wanted to try their clothing.
      That being said, every place and its cultural expectations are different, so it's good to play it by ear!

    2. That is exactly the response I have got from friends and co-workers who are Chinese about me wanting to wear Quipao. It's also something I have discussed with other bloggers, Walking in May (who mostly blogs cheongsams) and Nora Finds and their views on the topic are vastly different to SheLovesDresses. From a lot of what SheLovesDresses posts though I have lately got the feeling that she assumes all white people are inherently racist by birth. I think it's very cool that you have lived in Africa and been immersed in African culture, sounds like an amazing experience!

  7. I've noticed before that African styles have a very 1930's look, and I've always admired the lovely prints and bright colors so prevalent in African clothing. Thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed this post!


  8. I've seen so many of these African designs floating around the internet lately, and they are really stunning! They are everything I love about classic silhouettes and bold colors/prints all rolled into one.

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