Fashion and culture are inextricably linked, as sociologists and fashion theorists have long recognized. where fashion is a “code” that uses “main terms (color, fabric, pattern, texture capacity, silhouette, and time)” to subtly reference “traditional visual and tactile symbols of a culture.” Many have ascribed fashion to communication about self and cultural identity and a form of language.
Fashion is a unique and dynamic medium for nonverbal communication and visual expression in this way. Certain assumptions about an individual’s cultural and social identity can be drawn from their dress, hairstyle, body markings, and beautification routines. People of African heritage have also demonstrated that fashion has profound cultural and historical significance. For example, throughout the African Diaspora during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, there was a flowering pride in African culture and identity (Amoah, 2020). An increasing interest in African culture created a vibrant fashion exchange between the two cultures. With the resurrection of the Afrofuturism movement, this phenomenon of fashion giving and taking between African and African-American cultures is being experienced once more.
The African Diaspora’s Fashion and Identity
Afrofuturism is an aesthetic and cultural program in the African Migration that draws on Black people’s current and historical experiences to envisage the future through a Black cultural lens. Afrofuturism uses fashion to address the issue of Black people’s underrepresentation in future discourses and the thorny subject of clothes as a “visual metaphor for empowerment.” Many fashion creatives and fans across the African Diaspora have understood this and adopted this aesthetic to promote Black culture and identity.
Diverse components in Africa and the African Diaspora may be brought together by adopting Afrocentric clothing. Visualizations of Afrocentric dress are based on Kemet. They hence are mimetic since they depend on the idea of an old African self and its accompanying gestures, which are, of course, an aberration caused by the sickness that Fanon spoke about. Afrocentrism became essential and sometimes central to the fashion manifestations of black people living in America, the Caribbean, and the United Kingdom around the 1960s American civil rights movement. As a result, African-American ethos and fashion performance serve as an excellent illustration of a subgroup outside of American society’s main ethos, or “American culture.” If, however, fashion is a “visual metaphor” for identity, this creates a delicate and challenging point of discussion, particularly for persons of African origin (Saunders, 2022). African-American fashion is neither African nor American but rather a hybrid of the two aesthetics.
Research shows that African aesthetic effects on African American dress have a long history. West African cultural aesthetics, in particular, have been proved to have had the most influence on African American attire and decoration from enslavement to the emancipation and civil rights eras and up to the present day. However, given that the majority of the enslaved Africans sent to the American plantations came from Western Africa, this is not surprising.
On the other hand, the African style reflects the continent’s complex history of European imperialism and the current impacts of globalization. In contrast, fashion in the current African Migration reflects the pressures between adopting a new ethos and maintaining inherited beliefs.
African American Dressing Style
African-American fashion encapsulates this double-consciousness of Black identity, further perpetuated by cultural identifiers such as skin color, hair, body shapes, and facial features (thick lips, flat nose) that inherently act as barriers to full entry into the Euro-American beauty standard systems. As a result of this forced acculturation, African-American fashion, or “Black Style,” evolved, incorporating primarily West African aesthetics and “Euro-North American impressions and materials” to create distinct styles that challenge the dichotomy of dominant American culture as both subversive and compliant. Although fashion styles vary depending on various external circumstances such as age, socioeconomic status, and gender (Mundell, 2021). Four overarching deals are represented through the sartorial of African American practices;
The element of individual expressionor style– shows the person’s flair through the effort of creativity in garment pairing and how the body infuses adornments with energy and attitude.
Improvision and exotic features- creative styles of infusion and uncommon mixing enforced by features like hair wrap, headdresses, hairstyles, colorful nails, and accessories.
Dress-up tendency– Special occasions and infrequent fashions, such as church functions, are given special attention. Dressing up can convey status, command respect, or draw attention.
Africa’s Fashion and Style
Africa’s fashion reflects the continent’s varied histories and local cultures linked with complicated interrelationships. The result is a thriving modern fashion language that is unique to each of Africa’s 54 countries and locales and distinct through an increasingly recognizable continental and diasporic aesthetic. Contrary to popular perceptions of Africa as a single entity with “stagnant,” “tribal,” or “monolithic” fashion practices, reveals in her book New African Fashion that fashion in Africa is one of constant exchange and appropriation, with complex textile trade histories and aesthetic influences in global fashionable sartorial displays.
The emergence of modern fashion in Africa may be traced back to the late 1950s and 1960s when Africa gained freedom. Many Africans used fashion as a primary means of expressing a new sense of cultural identity (George, 2021). Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, urged citizens to renounce Western aesthetics and adopt traditional ways of dressing, fueled by Pan-African sentiments and Afrocentric ideals (Alleyne, 2022). This period also saw a revival of cultural linkages and exchanges between West African and African American populations, which were bolstered by Black nationalists and Pan-African supporters on both sides. The Kente, for example, a traditionally hand-woven cloth from Ghana, became popular among African American communities in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a symbol of “African heritage and pride” following a visit to the White House by Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah, who wore the cloth during his visit.
Sartorial expressions of cultural identity, on the other hand, meant mixing and matching European and traditional African dress aesthetics for the growing middle class of “young urban elites” with university education from abroad. Local tailors fashioned African designs (Dutch wax) and local textiles into contemporary silhouettes or matched them with European attire (Sarah et al., 2022). With the advent of globalization, technological breakthroughs, and the spread of social media, this blend of modern and traditional design has become deeply established in the fashion traditions of many African countries, and it continues to be reinvented and explored.
African Afrofuturistic Fashion
The results demonstrate that African participants valued cultural expression over all other themes and concepts in Afrofuturism fashion. However, Afrofuturism in African fashion may not necessarily mean altering present aesthetics but rather a focus on complementing rather than rejecting old and contemporary customs. After all, pride in the value of cultural symbols, artifacts, and productions was more prevalent in the attitudes toward culture. This can be seen in the aesthetics of Senegalese fashion designer Selly Raby Kane.
Figure 1; A Selly Raby Kane design from her collection of 2019
The fabric was used throughout the collection because of its geometric patterning and bold color palette. The researcher also drew design inspiration from Ghanaian cultural practices (Brown, 2020). A knitted Kente and Baule-inspired jacquard print in orange and white were designed to conceptualize an article of sustainable clothing that addressed Ghanaian fashion culture’s past, present, and future. The findings revealed that color was a significant aspect of Afrofuturism apparel, with a wide range of colors being used. Orange, white, green, magenta, blue, and yellow mercerized cotton, fine weight gold glitter acrylic yarn, and 2-ply medium weight indigo wool were used for the creation.
The finished appearance is a bold, colorful, and joyful outfit that reimagines ancient West African weaving procedures. It is not a replacement for woven fabrics but rather an innovative method of addressing African cloth while honoring artisanal handcrafting practices and production in Africa as a knitted alternative (Brown, 2020). The bold colors give the dress a vibrant and youthful feel, and the body-conscious silhouette explores the future of African design and defies the standards and expectations about African print as a knitted garment.
African diasporic Afrifuturistic Fashion
The Baule cloth was chosen as the critical feature for the Diasporic African appearance, and while the garment was not entirely waste-free, every attempt was made to reduce the amount of fabric wasted. As a result, the Baule fabric, which was formed of \sstrips of cloth linked side-by-side with a zig-zag stitch, was seam ruptured. A zero-waste skirt and a low-waste pleated cropped top were made from split strips of fabric.
The usage of the Baule cloth was symbolic of the participants’ pride in Africa and their thoughts on the use of color and geometry in Afrofuturistic design.
Figure 2; Diaspora African look
The silhouettes were highly current and fashion-forward, despite the African fabric. The playfulness of the pleated top was meant to indicate the group’s place in a cultural context. Kente and African print were added to symbolize the connection between Africa and the Diaspora. The shirt also accentuated Western fashion’s cropped tendencies while maintaining its African-ness.
Afrofuturistic Fashion of African America
When it comes to African American fashion, the findings show that Afrofuturism may provide an opportunity for African Americans to re-create a unique sense of identity free of preconceived notions of Blackness. An extraordinarily bright and lively top made with 1-inch strips of the tubular knitted fabric reflects this association of current, past, and upcoming African, African American style aesthetics. Magenta, yellow, and green mercerized cotton yarns were used. The colors are a mix of red, green, yellow, and black, pan-African colors (Mundell, 2021). A comparable calf-length oversized sleeveless coat was made to replicate the classic fur coat, inspired by the 20th-century Harlem Renaissance fur coats that many African Americans wore with pride.
African print leftover textiles were crammed into knitted fabric tubular compartments. The fabrication was constructed with yellow and blue mercerized cotton, white sustainable mercerized cotton, blue and yellow silk, medium weight yellow wool, and clear 0.004-inch monofilament thread. The coat’s tubular pockets were developed in Design a Knit software, then knitted and fashioned on the fibber in a color sequence alternating between white and clear monofilament to highlight glimpses of the African print pieces packed in-between the knitted opening. A strand of blue yarn was used to break up the sequence halfway. A 34-width yellow all-needle rib stitch was used to close each pocket. The coat is meant to pay homage to past African American fashion traditions while highlighting current African print fashion trends prevalent in Africa and the Diaspora.
Although all participants considered spirituality important to Afrofuturism, the African American participants highlighted it considerably more. The usage of yellow in the clothing was purposefully increased in response to this discovery. The look serves a number of purposes, including connecting the gap among the anthropoid and the spiritual and recognizing their family bonds to Africa and the international African Diaspora. The imaginative incorporation of African design discarded fabric fragments into woven fabric also addresses sustainability and futurism. As a result, the coat becomes a unique innovative portrayal of Black Diasporic ethos and African American custom.
Figure 3; African America look
Fashion Expressions of Afrofuturism
The research investigates how Afrofuturism aesthetics are used in Black people’s fashion statements. According to the findings, participants see fashion as a marker of identity, a good predictor, and a medium for self-presentation and representation (Doig-Acuña, 2020). Many people preferred hair fashion as it plays a role in Afrofuturism; everyone agreed that fashion’s visual nature makes it an effective vehicle for transmitting Afrofuturistic ideas and aesthetics. They believed that because Afrofuturism is a visual art form, it may not be necessary to communicate the notion to someone verbally, making it an effective conceptual representation through fashion. While some people claimed to utilize fashion to reflect their distinct identities, most mentioned specific fashion components that suggested an underlying collectiveness in Afrofuturism fashion expressions. These shared modes of expression blurred the boundaries of country and cultural identity. Color, geometry, and an African-themed motif were among the elements (Brown, 2020). This emphasizes Africa’s Afrocentric importance in Afrofuturistic expression once more. Participants agreed that there is no correct or incorrect way to express oneself outwardly with Afrofuturistic aesthetics, just as there is no right or wrong way to approach the idea of Afrofuturism.
Black hair is associated with expressions of empowerment, Black love, and solidarity among Black people. Participants frequently mentioned hair as one of the first and most accessible methods to begin exploring Afrofuturistic notions through fashion. As significant and influential as Afrofuturistic fashion is, participants realized that being an Afrofuturist does not need to wear something Afrofuturistic.
Expressions could be as modest as a headwrap or a piece of jewelry or as dramatic as a full Afrofuturistic costume with makeup and exotic hair. Many people expressed their preference for more overt fashion expressions in places where Afrofuturism could potentially stimulate discourse and awareness. The purpose of Afrofuturistic fashion, as depicted in the data, was to envisage the future of Black fashion, with futurism being the trademark of Afrofuturism.
Perceptions of the Black People of Afrofuturism
Afrofuturism was also about appreciating and honoring the uniqueness and diversity of African and Diaspora cultures and people. However, there was a strong focus on the importance of African culture and displaying pride in their African heritage. Hall’s (1994) second definition of postcolonial cultural identity is intimately related to these perceptions. Although the participants advocate for a cohesive African Diaspora, they equally recognize that the richness of Black culture comes in its diversity.
Afrofuturism was a vision of a future in which African and Black culture would be normalized to the point where wearing an Afrocentric piece of clothing in a corporate setting would not be out of place, and all forms of Blackness and love for Black culture would be accepted. They also agreed that if a change is to be made, we [Black people] must take issues into our own hands and solve our problems. In its recognition of a unifying need for Black growth and control of Black destinies, this is a pan-Africanist as it is an Afrocentric point of view.
While participants’ definitions of Afrofuturism included the concepts of futurism and technology, many were skeptical of focusing too much on development and technological advancements while ignoring the modern-day implications of technology. The relevance of technology in Afrofuturism dates back to the internet boom of the twentieth century when Black people lacked “access to advanced technology.” On the other hand, Afrofuturism meant finding ways for technology to support and complement human existence and the ecosystem rather than overwhelm it for participants. Participants who desired a more sustainable and wholesome approach to Afrofuturism expressed concerns about current technologies’ environmental and ecological implications. The issue of sustainability and spirituality, which was described as an essential element in Afrofuturism, could be linked to Black people’s desire to rediscover their ancestors’ customs as a way of 81 reinforcing the linkages between past and future.
The significance of this research rests in its examination of cultural identity and fashion concerning Afrofuturism. Although there is literature on Afrofuturism, there is virtually little on the fashion manifestations of the movement. However, given how fashion is becoming a more popular medium for Black men and women in the Diaspora to critique and challenge Afrofuturism-related concerns, this phenomenon must be addressed. This research aimed to look at three distinct groups within the African Diaspora: African Americans, Diasporic Africans, and Africans, to see how their cultural identities were expressed through their interpretations of Afrofuturism and fashion representations.
Finally, Afrofuturistic fashion expressions are a language of symbolic meanings associated with the Afrofuturistic “codes” of fashion. Afrofuturism dress represents identity, culture, and beliefs, as participants demonstrated. Participant attitudes related their Pan-Africanist and Afrocentric viewpoints to self-presentation while still hanging on to conceptions that embodied their cultural identities based on the agency and power of Black clothes.
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