Expat Life: Fashion Fun in Ghana

by missfootloose on September 10, 2011 · 25 comments

in Expat life, Fashion and Clothes, Ghana, people watching

All dressed up for church

Are you a fashionista? No? No problem, you’ll still enjoy watching the fashion scene in Ghana, West Africa, where I lived the expat life for many a year. So come with me and have a look around in Accra, the capital:

I’m driving my man to his office this morning so I can have the car to do my grocery shopping later. A young woman standing by the side of the dusty road catches my eye. She’s gorgeous and tall, wearing a black velvet party dress, a long, slim-fitting number with a plunging neckline fit for a fancy night club. (I know what you are thinking, but stop that!)  She has teamed this velvet confection with lime-green flip-flops and an aluminum head-pan full of water-baggies that sell for a penny a piece.  Head held regally high, she’s smiling at the world.  She’s queen of the morning, ready for work.

Wearing traditional wrap around cloths, these women are ready for work in the market. Notice the stools on their heads.

Later that day, as I drive around doing my shopping, I see another example of imaginative Ghanaian dressing. This particular person is a young male, a handsome dude strutting his stuff with great flair. He’s got massive shoulders which are visible because he’s conveniently wearing a white singlet undershirt. He has carefully teamed this with loose, wide-legged trousers made of – I kid you not – lacy baby-pink eyelet fabric. If only I had my camera.

Okay, this is not your average male attire, but there it is.

Clothes make the man, as they say. And the woman as well. In Ghana they know how to have fun dressing. Their traditional garb is as colorful and fun as it gets and people love to dress up for any and all celebrations and festivities and, of course, for church. Hairdos are often works of art that take hours at the beauty parlors to create.

Ghanaians have style, and although the young sophisticates go for Western fashions for work and an evening out, they still might dress up in a modernized version of their traditional dress for certain occasions. Ghanaian fashion designers will use traditional African fabrics to create stunning new styles. Just have a look here at this Modern Ghana Fashion video. It’s fabulous.

Ali, our gardener, takes part in the fashion fun too. One morning he comes to work in a new shirt, a cheery floral print of many colors, an English flower garden in full bloom. Non-tropical roses and daisies and crocuses and pansies and gardenias spring forth from the cloth in glorious abandon, a profusion of blooms tempting to be picked. The print with all its sweet blossomy detail reminds me of a summer dress my mother used to wear when I was little, sleeveless, with a gathered skirt and a wide belt, cheered further with a necklace of round pink beads.

Of course, being a man, Ali does not wear a pink necklace.

He wears pink sneakers.

Ghanaians, in keeping with their character, favor bright colors, and exuberant designs. Wax print cottons, Ashante adrinkra fabric and the woven kente cloth, are part of the Ghanaian cultural heritage and they are not disappearing from the scene, I’m happy to say. Just look at these guys on the photo below.  Who wants jeans? (Actually, they do, but not for celebrations and festivals.)

Kente Festival. Not your daily wear.

Clothes of Western origin are easily procured at trendy shops (for a price) or cheaply at Obruni Wao Market, otherwise known as Dead White Man Market. Every imaginable type of clothing from the West can be found here, discarded not necessarily by the relatives of dead people, but more likely by people making room for new fashions. Along with skirts, pants and blouses, you’ll find queen-size bras, ski hats and ball gowns.  I once saw a fishmonger in the market decked out in an American purple mother-of-the-bride dress while cleaning shrimp, and another one was wearing an over-sized sleeping shirt with woolly lambs chasing across her bouncy breasts. Women love mixing and matching patterns and colors. What’s wrong with a red-and-blue flowered skirt teamed with a green-and-white striped blouse? Aren’t they both pretty and cheerful?

Go for it, is what I say. What’s wrong with a little happiness?

* * *

You have a fashion story?  A clothing story?  Go hunt in your memory, drag something out and hang it up here.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Turkey's For Life September 10, 2011 at 8:42 am

I love bright colours and there’s not enough of it in western culture. All these ladies look fab. The ladies here in Turkey are no strangers to spending a few hours in the hairdressers to have their hair done, too.

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missfootloose September 13, 2011 at 9:57 am

I really enjoy seeing people taking some effort with their appearance. Of course it can go to extremes in some places. I like to wear casual clothes at times, but in the US it seems people hardly dress up at all for anything, and the number of actual slobs roaming the malls and shopping centers don’t make a pretty picture.

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marja September 10, 2011 at 10:00 am

I grew up with fashion as my parents had a clothing shop and I saw many fashion parades but I stil love these clothes from Ghana with amazing colours and prints the best. The little girl is gorgeous.

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Sarah-Jane September 10, 2011 at 11:06 am

I love how they dress up for Church – our driver arrived at work few Sundays ago all dressed up complete with bow-tie, and we asked was he going to a wedding to which he laughed and said no he had come straight from church. Just yesterday I went with a friend and picked out fabric for myself and my boys to have outfits made for Nigerian Culture Day at School which is celebrated at the end of the month here in Lagos. The fabrics are beautiful and bright and very similar to those in your pictures from Ghana.

For me personally, nothing felt more beautiful than wearing a Sari in India – they are simply stunning.

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missfootloose September 13, 2011 at 8:46 am

I agree, saris are stunningly beautiful. About the cotton wax print fabrics in Nigeria, they are very similar to the ones in Ghana and other West African countries.

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Judy September 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm

It’s interesting how colours and fashions look so RIGHT in one place but so WRONG in another. When we visited Canada when living in the Middle East all my clothes seemed wrong and vice versa. On repatriation I thought everyone here wore such drab colours and yet just as I was walking home on Friday I realized I no longer thought that way. Still LOVE the wild Ghanain outfits though 🙂 They suggest a much more exuberant and fun-loving culture. Is that the case?

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missfootloose September 13, 2011 at 9:47 am

You wrote: “It’s interesting how colours and fashions look so RIGHT in one place but so WRONG in another.” Oh yes, and it took me a while to figure this out. I came back to the US from Indonesia and later from Ghana with a wardrobe made of local fabric and looked really weird in the US. And yes, the Ghanaians are very fun-loving and exuberant people.

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Nancy September 10, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Love it!!

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guyana gyal September 10, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Only a macho-looking chap can carry off “loose, wide-legged trousers made of – I kid you not – lacy baby-pink eyelet fabric”.

I love to browse fashion sites, haute-couture and all…I’m amazed at the things designed for men…I’ve seen male models in pink. The fellas here are conservative and wouldn’t wear that…ever!

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missfootloose September 13, 2011 at 9:43 am

I don’t know any men who’d wear pink unless it’s a shirt, but even that you don’t see much. I think this guy in pink pants in Ghana had some thing going and certainly was not dressed like most men there. I love seeing this sort of individualism though.

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Janet | expatsisterhood.com September 11, 2011 at 1:29 am

Stunning pictures! The bright colors remind me of the saris and salsas suits in India. Beautiful. I always wondered about the scarves though. While gorgeous, they looked like a bit of a hazard for women riding on motorcycles. The ends would fly behind them like flags.

Janet | expatsisterhood.com

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Welshcakes Limoncello September 11, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Love those fabrics but my favourite pic is of the happy little girl at the top.

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ann nz September 12, 2011 at 11:06 am

Thank you for visiting. How long are you in Ghana for? I once had very good neighbours from Ghana. I am on facebook with the kids, british reared. It is interesting to read how these kids comment about their parents homeland.

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missfootloose September 13, 2011 at 9:08 am

I lived in Ghana twice, for a almost 9 years, total. I like writing in present tense, but the story took place some time ago. I now live in Moldova. Ghanaians are great, fun and outgoing.

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Mara September 12, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I don’t think I could pull it off! Although there are some people who will try anything (usually with disastrous results). It’s fun watching others though.

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edj September 13, 2011 at 12:24 am

In my experience, Africans (and other cultures in general, really) use colour very differently than Americans and Europeans do. I have some of my own funny stories. My favorites are when they have fabric printed to commemorate some event, so they are wearing shirts where the pattern has someone’s face, or Marlboro cigarettes, or cell phones!

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missfootloose September 13, 2011 at 9:05 am

Yes, they do that all over West Africa I think. Here is a photo of a great one in Ghana. I wanted it on my blog but it was copyrighted and the photographer did not get back to me 😉 Have a look, it’s great!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cdelriccio/3730899356/

Notice Obama is on it too.

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Barbara September 14, 2011 at 12:16 am

In 2008 in Tanzania they were selling khanga (printed squares for wrap-around skirts and many other uses) with Obama’s face flanked by maps of Africa. I live in a very conservative part of the US, but brought home an Obama khanga for my three liberal friends (and for myself).

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Mary Kirk September 14, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Interesting thought–that clothes and decorations that look wonderful in one country (or region, actually) can look totally out of place somewhere else. Certainly true in our household, where my dh has boxes of cloth and clothing that he brought home from Ghana (many years ago–he was there from ’66 – ’69). We’ve had many an argument over his wanting to use pieces of Kenti cloth, wax-printed cloth, and other various other kinds of West African textiles as wall hangings, table runners, slip covers, etc. He loves them. I don’t–not on the walls and furniture. I DO appreciate them for their own sake, and even like several of them quite a lot (especially his Nigerian robe, all chain-stitch embroidered, and another robe, like a Kaftan, that’s a wax print, dark blue background with orange birds on it–both very beautiful). He’s certainly free to hang, drape, or otherwise display whatever he wants in his personal spaces in the house. For our common and/or “public” areas, though . . . well, I just can’t handle the juxtaposition of all those bright, “clashing” colors alongside our otherwise rather subdued early-1900s American “traditional” decor. Doesn’t bother him at all–but then, he grew up in a house where the carpet was multicolored carpet squares, with a different pattern in every room of the house. No question about it: for better or worse, one’s sense of what is and isn’t visually pleasing is programmed from birth!

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missfootloose September 14, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Hello Mary! I don’t blame you about not wanting the African fabrics in your 1900’s American “traditional” decor. Doesn’t fit. With all the stuff I’ve gathered from places over the years it’s always a problem to make them work in any decor. Our rented house here in Moldova is new and very, very “classic’ and “proper” and it drives me crazy because I don’t like it and I can’t do a thing with it, and I am so not a classic proper person;) but such is the expat life. You adjust, you deal, you close your eyes when it comes to your rented environment. Say high to K.!

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Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot September 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Hi there! What a gorgeous idea for a post. I’d forgotten about all the crazy outfits you see people wearing in Africa so thanks for the reminder:) It’s true about the hairdos as well. The other female teachers in my school seemed to change their look every week. Completely unrecogniseable on Monday mornings. I had the same pony tail for a year.

I love African textiles and still have many cherished kangas (sarongs) from Kenya here. If I go back I’m going to get trillions of them and use them to make curtain, cushions, everything. Kenyan kangas for women often come with traditional swahili sayings written on them. I got someone to translate them all for me:)

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MaryWitzl September 19, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Those are marvelous pictures and that is a great story. I love the bright colors almost as much as men unabashedly wearing pink or ladies got up in ballgowns to go to work.

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Louisette September 23, 2011 at 7:26 pm

i love much the traditional dress very colored, that remember me Katanga, women are proud in this dress, nice blog, greeting from Belgium

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bonnie September 24, 2011 at 5:05 am

the little girl on the top is so adorable

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