Before you waste an entire year’s salary on that midnight black Armani suit and Gucci loafers or those Louboutin heels and Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses for the overhyped and ever-changing world of the business professional, we need a bit of education on what business dress is and why returning to our traditional African roots of dressing is consistent with the norms of the business formal and casual even in the Western world and still reflect our Afrocentric belief system and can be worn with pride and dignity. Knowledge is power, to build and to uplift.
Dress codes have been in existence in the professional world ever since the dawn of modern times. In the most recent past, business formal has prevailed with men in neutral colored suits and leather dress shoes and women in modest length dresses or skirts, button up collars, tights, conservative accessories, and heels. The advent of business casual is a newer phenomenon bought on by Apple and to a lesser extent Google which allows for comfort and not as formal as the business formal but still excludes jeans and tennis shoes. Most companies have these dress codes usually in a central location of the company’s intranet. Most pieces of traditional clothing from a kaftan to the more traditional Ethiopian suit can be worn with pride and still conform to dress codes of a Western company. Amazing you can conform and still be free to express with pride your roots. Who knew? `
As we move further into a post-colonial reality, our Afrocentric awareness continues to evolve. These beliefs have come to reflect traditional African values. It is a political, cultural and ideological movement that strives to preserve African identity. This self-awareness has been hampered by European colonialism in which we were regarded and regarded ourselves as inferior. But as we gain an enlightened view of ourselves as beautiful and uniquely African derived people, it should become a way for us to raise the self-respect for everyone of African descent throughout the world.
It is imperative that you understand what traditional African clothes are or their meaning. If your beginnings are privileged meaning middle class upbringing, large home, late model cars in the driveway your Western dress is reflected in that and was expected. But for those of us from a more modest and humble background we had to project where we wanted to go and careful not to reflect where we came from. This duality to our existence prevailed in school and in our professional setting. It seems we are always on stage playing the role of our lives. It doesn’t matter what shotgun house on cement blocks or that section 8 government housing on the wrong side of the railroad tracks you ran from, you buried that under layers and layers of poise and the latest gear. Your clothes and your carriage should reflect who you want to be or who you are becoming in most respects. This is what Afrocentric dress reflects. Pride in who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. This pride is reflected in every aspect of traditional African garb.
Afrocentric clothes reflect comfort and are fashionable with meaning associated with the colors. The materials in traditional African garb reflect the varied tribes and people of the continent and is more than the widely known Kente clothe of the Ashanti people of West Africa in this country. There is Adire(tie-dye) and Aso oke fabric of the Yoruba people, barkcloth made by the Buganda tribe. There is the Kitenge made in Kenya and other east Africa countries, and there is Mudcloth made by the Bambara tribe. The color of the clothes also tells the story of the person trajectory in life, when you think about it. For example, gold reflects wealth and fertility. Red reflects tension the spiritual and the political world because the color of blood. Blue represents love and peace, and it symbolizes the sky and is harmonious color. Green represents prosperity in life and is also the color used for medicinal treatment. There is a spirituality and an overall importance of the African's clothing pieces reflected in the color of the clothing.
I think there are many ways to symbolize tradition and cultural authenticity in the workplace. Try a beautifully tied head scarf or Nigerian Gele, Kiondo (traditional purse with 2 handles) or a traditional print men’s dress shirt…All have a place in a professional world. This self-awareness and pride in our culture will be reflected in our poise and with the clothes tailored to fit our bodies. It will also reflect the richness and diversity of all cultures that make us who we are.
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