What classic African pieces should be in every African woman’s wardrobe?

Classic pieces in the African Woman's Closet

African millennials and the generations before them are growing up and reconfiguring the African aesthetic to fit their cosmopolitan style. The demand for African print clothes and designs show no trends of decline, and rightly so! We are a proud second-gen bunch. Most of us grew up watching our mothers and aunties style themselves for church and community functions in beautiful, bold patterns of Ankara fabric and lace, but what makes up the basics of a classic African woman’s wardrobe?

Afua Rida, the chief stylist behind the hit TV show, An African City, and I outlined the basics of the quintessential African woman’s wardrobe in Episode two of This Afropolitan Life Podcast. Most likely, these items were in your mother’s closet and there’s good reason for a few of these essentials to be in yours too.

A Bubu

The classics of an African woman’s closet start with a basic (or remixed) bubu. The long, shapeless, flowy garment is dressed up or down depending on mom’s mood. There were bubus for all occasions; for lounging around the house, or for going to the African Grammys. There were Bubus impressively embroidered with gold and metallics and bubus cut from basic cotton to keep mama cool, comfortable and free. Bubus certainly serve a functional purpose and these days there are so many cool renditions of the classic bubu, it would be remiss not to have your very own in your closet—ditch the yoga pants.

Mourning & Celebratory Cloth

If you grew up African, you know that our people love their social events i.e. funerals, weddings, outdoorings, and engagements. Show me an African woman’s closet and I’ll show you, at least, five different black and red colored cloths for mourning the dead; five different white and black or blue and white cloths for celebrating births and naming, and a plethora of lace for weddings and engagements. It’s just how we roll, and it makes up a decent chunk of the classic African woman’s wardrobe. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever need to crowd out your closet with any of these necessities, do yourself a favor and secure at least one funeral cloth, it’ll come in handy someday.

Ornamental Earrings & Neck Pieces

Ornamental earrings and statement neck pieces are key cornerstone items in the African woman’s closet. Beads, metals, golds, woods, silvers…cheap costume jewelry from China…doesn’t matter. Like classic Fulani Peul earrings indicate—the bolder the better. Our mothers knew how to dress up anything with bold earrings and neck candy.

Finger Art

Besides the wedding bands, our mothers had a few gold rings and for the hipper crop of mothers, oversized wood or ivory finger ornaments were in the rotation. Rings weren’t an everyday thing for some, but best believe when the wedding and baby shower season came around no Aso-Ebi was complete without a pretty ring.

On-the-go head wrap

You need several pieces of fabric for that on-the-go headwrap—not everyday is a good hair day! African women know we can’t just heap a bad hair situation into a messy bun on top of our heads, so we wrap that ish up! Be sure to have a few dope patterns and colors on hand. Fanm Djanm has pretty cool tutorials on how to tie a headwrap…oh and she sells pretty headwraps too.


What’s an African woman without a healthy dose of confidence? It’s in our curves, in our gait, in the way we fill out a kaba and slit. It’s in the way our mothers would dress to a colorful tee, and punctuate the loud flyness with oversized sunglasses and a stick of chewing gum. An African woman wears her confidence if not anything at all.

Your turn! What do you think are classic pieces of an African woman’s wardrobe?

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