Cultural Coexistence of Dress and Fashion in Nigeria- Part 1 of 3

Nigerian man (Image by Lawrence Olawale-Roberts from Pixabay)

Maintaining a global perspective while exercising cultural coexistence is necessary when comparing and contrasting the unique qualities between two fashion cultures such as Nigeria and the United States.

For this research, I have conducted an interview with a friend who is now an adult Third Culture Kid (TCK). Being from the United States, I have been raised around a westernized and ethnocentric environment. The ways of dress, idealized beauty standards, and cultural rhythms are different than that of Nigeria in several aspects and can sometimes make cultural coexistence a challenge.

The participant that has kindly accepted to be interviewed is a 21-year-old female who was born in Nigeria, moved to Texas at two, and then to Colorado. She frequently visits at least once a year usually for the summers, and spent the last three years of her high school education in Nigeria before coming back to the United States for college. 

Image by Crea8t from Pixabay 

Contemporary ideals of beauty

The contemporary ideals and standards of beauty in Nigerian culture is representative of natural femininity and masculinity. According to the participant, “women need to be curvy, being skinny is not what is wanted.” A natural, full-figured, hourglass shape is desired while still being slim in the midsection. In fact, it is a compliment to be called fat. Natural beauty and grace in movement is desired. Elongated necks and bodies are the definition of beauty. In addition, hair is a significant feature that can be modified and is significant with beauty standards. Coarser, textured hair is the standard and norm in Nigerian culture.

For men, it is desired and ideal for them to be tall with broad shoulders, muscular and strong. Women have more standards to live up to in Nigeria than men. For both men and women, skin lightening is a trend that is currently put into effect and desired to reach another standard. It is perceived that it provides an economic advantage; especially for women; when getting jobs or gigs they believe it will benefit them being lighter. These standards are communicated within the society with hypermasculinity and with influencers in the media, regardless of whether they are realistic or detrimental to the health of the Nigerian culture, making cultural coexistence a challenge.

Cultural coexistence within masculine and feminine fashion

The participant explains how “masculinity is superior to femininity,” within the culture. This is due to how masculinity is valued as strength and women are more inclined to be on the backburner and be a caretaker. Consequently, a shapelier and fuller figure is desired to show that a woman can cook, eat, and provide at the home level.

Image by Crea8t from Pixabay 

Current and contemporary dress is attributed to more westernized fashions. Especially with men that fashion is ubiquitous. That is a contribution to the Muslim population and religious following within the culture. It is not uncommon for women to wear head wear or head accessories, whether that be for religious purposes, for fashion, or to protect the head and hair. Headdresses, veils, hijabis, head wraps, and hats such as caps, berets, and bucket hats are in style and worn in current Nigerian dress.  When it comes to everyday street style and trends for the culture, the participant states that “clothes that are oversized and dramatic are always in but really big right now.” Textiles that are either structured or flowy are both desired and considered fashionable, such as chiffon. Bold or bright colors are also enjoyed for the statement they make and how it pops and contrasts against the skin tone.

When it comes to modesty, they prefer coverage but that does not necessarily mean it will be enforced. It is common to see women with tighter clothes to display their figure, like a skirt worn with a turtleneck top. While chic and sophisticated, the bust is covered but the silhouette is outlined. Women are supposed to be covered to display respect and modesty.

Modesty is not much of an issue for men, which displays the double standard and pressure on women’s standards in Nigeria.

Image by Lawrence Olawale-Roberts from Pixabay

Contemporary dress practices for special events

Attire and fashion for celebrations and customs in Nigeria are sentimental and significant to the culture. The extravagance and at times masquerade glamour that it can lead to and the kinetic energy that movement has with the fashion is a signifier of beauty for women in particular.

According to the participant, “skirts with slits, dresses with trains, or tight fitting dresses,” are common for women. For men, a Yoruba indigenous top known as the dashiki is common formal and traditional attire. For instance, it can be worn at a graduation or wedding.

Another part of the garment and also a textile utilized in other garments for men and women is the kente cloth. This cloth is worn as strips over a graduation gown, or used as the textile for the entire garment.

An additional celebration that dress is significant in is a wedding. In Nigeria, a white wedding dress is sometimes worn during the ceremony by the bride. While at the reception, the bride might wear a more indigenous dress that is extravagant and flashy. Vibrant colors, regality, and variation of luxurious textiles such as lace are necessary in a Nigerian wedding to display wealth.

A baba riga or agbada is typically what the groom wears, a garment mostly in western Africa where Nigeria is located. The garment is a flowy, wide sleeved robe that is classified as a suit. When it comes to funerals, an agbada in black, dark, or dull colors are worn. Women wear flowy, cotton fabrics in dark, dull colors as well to mourn. Finally, a large factor for formal dress is that luxury is endorsed.

Accessories for special events

Jewelry is a necessary accessory for both men and women. Necklaces, earrings, belly chains, and rings are popular accessories and can display wealth or status. Along with movement of the body. Something that is a focus on women, to see the grace they are expected to portray through their movement. 

Kente cloth used for graduations and cultural events.

Comparison of two cultures

Nigeria and the United States share westernized dress when it comes to casual, every day, or business attire, in addition to how modesty is valued by older generations out of respect. However, that does not necessarily mean that modesty will endure, especially in the U.S.A.

Similar trends are popular in both countries. Pops of color and dramatic statement pieces or details to a garment, such as flowy sleeves or structured shoulders are on trend. In Nigeria, formal wear, professionalism, or dressing up is more common than in the U.S.A., whereas the United States has a more relaxed, even lazy look every day. Casual wear in Nigeria is still more respectful due to it being still traditional in culture like the dashiki.

In the U.S.A., the bride will traditionally stay in her ceremony dress, or even get a second dress they wanted, a shorter dress, a jumpsuit, or romper option in white or a subtle tint for the reception, whereas in Nigeria that is when the color comes out and the real celebration begins.

The reception dress may be even more extravagant than the ceremony dress, with luxurious thick fabric, embroidery, jewels, vibrant colors, or abstract patterns making them stand out even more. The similarities and differences between these two cultures in regards to dress are vastly similar in regards to westernization.

The difference results in vibrancy and luxury of how Nigerians like to stand out and display their culture in an extravagant and beautiful way.

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