Fashion Origins: Nigerian Fashion from the 1960s – 2022

In The 6os

The 1960s was a peak period for the Nigerian Fashion industry. Aside from the establishment of an independent republic, Nigeria also celebrated its first recognized fashion designer Shade Thomas-Fahmm, an English-trained nurse who returned home to Lagos to establish her own design boutique – Maison Shade,  inspiring a fundamental generation of African designers breaking records till date.

Certainly, one can without a shadow of a doubt tag the period as the foundation for the 1.82 billion worth industry we indulge today. On this special feature article, fitted trailed down memory lane to identify major fashion highlights from the 1960s to date. Take a seat and ride with us – read, we mean.

1960s

There was an obsession with the crown and the military. Female fashion featured more prominently as women were expected to be docile and fragrant in representation. The ladies wore free gowns with matching hats on and silhouette shoes. Whilst the female ensemble was more Elizabethan, the typical modern Nigerian male had nuances of the military or form of boy scout. In the 60s, it was raining flowery gowns and khaki trousers.  

The North was highly conservative and preferred the Islamic looks. Traditionalism was still the main theme of society which was also reflected in all types of dressing. Only tourists adopt western fashion. On the streets, there were more kaftan, buba, agbada, Isi agu than tailored skirts and trousers. In addition, the stiletto heels were very popular at this time. Men rocked boot-legged pants, tightly fitted shirts with loud prints and the first two buttons open-topped.

1970s

By this time, the radio, newspapers and magazines could be spotted in many households so was the boom in export and import in the nation’s economy. This meant more foreign goods were brought in. Although that didn’t stop traditionalism, it only struck a balance and modern appearance was a look for the corporate world. Rock and Roll had just entered into the Nigerian entertainment world popularising the wide-legged pants and wide-collared white shirts. In the local arena, style hadn’t changed, materials did, brocade was the trend amongst creme de la creme of the 70s society. 

1980s

Television was becoming a part of most households. This triggered an increase in the taste of foreign goods. As at this time institutions began to adopt western mode of conduct and appearance slightly eroding traditionalism. There were more foreign bosses. This means you had to keep to the status quo to make it through the corporate and that included your dressing too. The celebrity influence through jazz, movies and docu dramas and sitcoms began to inform people’s fashion choices. In the eighties, everything was big; You go bigger or go home. Maxi skirts for women, baggy suits for men, chunky jewellery, huge perms and wild afros were the order of the day.

1990s – 2000s

In the 2000s, the dressing trend changed drastically and everyone wanted to look hip pop-ish. The African community caught on to the trend of jeans, bandanas and Fez caps. Asides from the proliferation of rap and pop musicians within Nigeria, feminism in Nigeria was just beginning to creep on the foundation laid by music and the emerging pop-culture. Fashion started experiencing subtle changes; it became more retro, pop and hip with a lot of notable American influence. The capris pants began to make an appearance; the miniskirts, the scousers – a pair of shorts and skirts sewn together – also sprung up amongst many others. For native attire, boubous were the most popular in this era. Ankara materials were just getting introduced at this period. There was an emerging love for retro mixed with admiration from the then fashion icon and monarch – Princess Diana. The little black dress (made popular by legendary French designer Coco Chanel), the bell bottom jeans, cropped tops, pants, ballet flats, and oversized glasses were mostly seen amongst the elite woman society. 

Men’s fashion also saw a change. Trouser hems became narrower and narrower while they fit in the hips and the waist grew looser. Men wore their hair short – buzz cuts and fades were in as they ditched the curl activators and relaxers.This was a time where extremity was accepted. Ladies tilted more to Brazilian, Peruvian, or Chinese hair, and were quite uncomfortable with their kinky Afro hair. 

2010 – 2022

At the time of this article, Nigerians are embracing ethnic and traditional clothing, wearing them to official and social functions. More and more black women are dumping relaxers and embracing their natural kinky locks. A lot of old looks are making a comeback, skinny jeans and bell bottoms have come and gone, headscarves are making a comeback and even afros are back, either in the form of weaves or natural hair. Men are also adopting dreads that were once frowned upon and the conservative way of life has begun to gradually blend into the liberal. While the 1990s – 2000s was sexier, the next era was elusive, fluid and varied. Almost like there was a reversal to the old era, only that it ebbed and flowed in a better direction. In an era where representation matters, fashion has become more individualistic than societal, a mode of communication than a model of class. 

The Ankara fabric in the native arena has gained the most prominence transcending traditional to modern value – African-themed Marvel Movie, the Black Panther saw to that, Angelique Kidjo saw to that, Top Afrobeat musicians saw to that even deeply. Every niche of fashion in Nigeria and in the world has started taking the nuance of the African style. With popular celebrities such as Beyonce, Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, Jlo embracing and identifying themselves with the black and African culture. 

One take from observation: Nigeria’s fashion is not only evolving but triggering new ideals and concepts that has and will continue to beguile the eras to come. With the advent of technologically business innovation, companies like Fitted are bringing solutions to the value chain system birthing the Fashion tech approach to native fashion. We took up the ropes in trend setting and we are bound to hold the reins tighter as time passes. The future of the Nigerian fashion industry is the core of Nigerian creatives.

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