Wearing Nigerian clothing outside of Nigeria

I like wearing Nigerian clothing outside of Nigeria. One thing I always bring back from Nigeria is freshly-sewn clothing, most of it in colourful ankara fabric, and on rare occasion, something in the more expensive lace material. While I’m in Nigeria I tend to lose weight thanks to limited access to sweets, more walking, a reduced appetite, and tons more sweating. Months after my return to Canada I have difficulty fitting into my new clothes due to my reintroduction to a more sedentary life and to my true size!

Nigerian ankara skirt

If you live outside of Nigeria and wear traditional clothing, do you wear it anywhere or just to Nigerian or African functions? I’ve mentioned before that my parents, in particular my mom, wears traditional clothing whenever she can: she wears it at work on the few occasions each year when she doesn’t have to stick to the dress code, and she also wears her ankara prints or lace to church most Sundays (and we don’t attend an African church). I had a button-down shirt sewn that I envisioned wearing over jeans but the style of the shirt is boxy and unflattering so I rarely wear it. Skirts however, are my thing: I have at least seven skirt and blouse sets that I’ve had sewn for me during various trips and while most of the blouses don’t fit right now and some of the skirts are snug, there’s one skirt in particular from 2008 that I wear every summer—the skirt just seems to flow with me, no matter what size I am. I fell in love with the material at the market in Akure and I had to have it.

When my sister and I wear ankara print in Canada, we usually pair it with a plain top or bottom because wearing the whole set feels dressy, and we save that for Nigerian functions. One of the things I like about living in Canada is that no one really makes a fuss about how you dress: when people see my mom in ankara they comment on how much they love the bright colours and the pattern, and if she’s also wearing a gele (head wrap/tie/scarf) she gets even more comments—many people are fascinated by how the gele is folded and tied. Wearing traditional clothing is a great way to start a conversation about your culture.

The next time I go to Nigeria I plan to take a top and maybe even pants or capris from here that I love and that fit me well, and see if I can have it duplicated in ankara fabric—wouldn’t that be awesome?

What are your views on wearing traditional clothing outside of the home country?

31 thoughts on “Wearing Nigerian clothing outside of Nigeria

  1. I find it very interesting that some cultures are more likely to wear their cultural clothing on a regular, day-to-day basis more often. I had a math teacher in high school who was Indian and she would, once in a blue moon, wear a sari to work. On the other hand, I have never, ever in my life seen East Asians of any culture (whether Korean, Chinese, Japanese, etc…) do this outside of weddings. And even then, it’s usually only the immediate families of the bride and groom. Very young children, of course, might wear something for the New Year, but typically, they stop by the time they’re six or seven. We tend to focus on food and holidays more than clothing or even language (unless it’s Mandarin).

    • That’s a good point, and it raises a question that I’d love to know the answer to: do East Asians typically wear traditional clothing on a day-to-day basis in their countries (i.e. within Eastern Asia)? It sounds like traditional clothing may only meant to be worn on special occasions if at all, even within the country.

      • I’ve only been to Hong Kong, Macau and Shanghai and did not really see it there. It largely stopped in the 60s for women and earlier for men (I’m mostly judging on photos and period movies, so I don’t know how accurate that is). There are some eldery women (as in 80+) who wear tunics and black pants, but definitely not among those below, say, 75. It might be more common in rural parts of China, but I have never been there.

  2. I wear mine to church and parties and I have worn my dashiki (casual attire) to class once. There is an African takeover day (started on social media by African youth in the diaspora) during black history month though where traditional attire is worn to school/class. I’m yet to participate because it’s usually too cold, maybe this year.

    • Hi Naija Girl Abroad! I hope you can participate in the African takeover day this year (just wear layers!). Thanks for sharing your experience with wearing traditional clothing abroad!

  3. There is a fellow that shows up at the auction who is known for his festive outfits, Some days he looks like a bumble bee. I should ask him what style of dress hes got going

  4. Personally, I feel so proud showing off my rich african dressing outside Nigeria. At home my Sundays has now become a African/Naija attire day. I wish workplaces can permit flexibility with regards to this….

    • Hi Brillow! I share your pride in your heritage and it would be cool if workplaces were flexible—some might be: we won’t know unless we ask!

  5. I wore my natives during my first year here. I was so proud of it because I got so many good compliments … But as I began to understand the negativity surrounding Nigerians in Yankee, I stopped wearing them. After my delivery of my 5th child, none of the Ankara or lace fitted me! Hopefully, as I have stopped breast feeding last month, I can wear them again occasional … Like this Saturday, we have a naming ceremony to attend … Will try one of them on … Fingers crossed! Ahahahaha.

    You mentioned sedentary lifestyle! How apt! We are on the same line of thought sistah! I talked about it in my recent post. So true! Back home, my legged- Benz took me every where. And I don’t like sweets or cookies, only cake!

    The Ankara material fits our weather and can easily be cut into any design … I am not a lover of lace … Only buy them for aso ebi. I prefer to buy quality Ankara like the type Okonjo do wear. It never fades. And the pattern is classic.

    I like ankaras in flowing skirts or mermaid cut. Then buy a ready made blouse of similar colour. Or in black or white … Always a good combination and tie the ankara headtie in a turban way, The look is classic. It fits any occasion. In this way, you can have few Ankara and use it many times over.

    Oops! Again! I have written a post comment! Sorry. I enjoyed the topic Jummy. Well done.

    • Hi Nitty and thank you for your comment! It’s unfortunate that you felt that identifying yourself as a Nigerian would be unwise, but I’m glad that you may be able to start wearing your traditional clothing to certain events again (once they fit! Lol I hope you find one to manage for the naming ceremony?).

      Yes you and I had sedentary lifestyles on our minds! I like most sweets but I’m not so crazy about chocolate—I’ll eat it but candy is my weakness: I guess I’m still a kid at heart!

      We have similar styles in ankara skirts: though I don’t usually wear anything too tight, a mermaid style skirt is very flattering. The look you describe is indeed very classic.

  6. I used to wear mine back in Boston and Atlanta to work, sometimes church (they always loved it). But I prefer simple styles and rarely wear a full outfit (top and skirt). I want to incorporate more stylish ankara pieces into my wardrobe sha.

    • It’s awesome that you wore your traditional clothing to work. You’re in the perfect location to get all the stylish ankara your heart desires!

  7. I wear my Ankara everywhere especially in the summer and fall months. I wear Ankara tops with jeans, shorts. I wear the skirts with tank tops or just plain tops like you guys do. I attend an African church and on occasion have worn the up and down to church. People comment on the beautiful and bright colors.

  8. I go to a Nigerian church so I usually have this phase where I wear “native” to church on most Sundays with the whole headgear and whatnot. And then of course to birthday parties and weddings. Outside of that, I also have a few ankara skirts that I occasionally pair up with a plain white or black top for the summer time.

  9. Hi GNG. I am on wordpress now and can’t figure out why I get notified that some blogs have new posts, but not updated on others like yours :( so I never seem catch your posts immediately anymore which makes me feel like a slacker. Anyhow, I do have some naija trad from 2011. They are mostly dressy so I wear to functions. Right now most don’t fit cos I am bigger as well so i took it to alterations. Maybe i will start wearing them to church.

    • Hi neuyogi!

      You could never be a slacker! I’m sorry about not getting notified: I was going to suggest that maybe you subscribe which you’ve done, but I’ll try to test that WordPress feature of following blogs (that’s what you were referring to, right?).

      Good one taking your things to alterations: I plan to alter mine but I need to check if there’s enough material folded in to make it work!

      Thanks for the skirt love! :)

  10. I usually only wear things for special occasions/parties/etc. I want to start incorporating it into my regular attire though. Everything I have now though is so dressy. Its a work in progress for me.

    • Thanks for sharing, Lady Ngo; I can understand how it would be harder to incorporate the dressy items with regular attire but you can do it!

    • That’s great, Aloted! You make a good point: areas that get cold make it hard to wear ankara year-round!

  11. I’ve legit been trying to do this for a while. I keep making modern styles in trad but I never seem to have the motivation to wear them once sewn. It still feels fancy to me.

    The taking an item you own idea is great, I just get nervous I won’t get it back or by the time I get the trad item back, I would have lost my enthusiasm (I need to link up with people who travel back and forth to Naija regularly – this waiting months at a time to get an outfit is ridiculous, lol)

    • Hi Tayo, nice to see you! :)

      If you find ankara feels fancy I think you should try mixing and matching the top or bottom with a casual piece.

      I didn’t think about the “what if I don’t get it back”; good thinking! If you have a trusted tailor chances are better. We have one woman we go to who I trust but not everyone knows their tailor well.

      You need to go to Naija yourself, missy!

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