On Fashion

The elements of culture are so common among the different ethnic groups, that one can hardly distinguish them by their clothing. The basic fabric is local cotton. The printed fabric is worn usually for everyday life. Clothes in dyed or hand woven fabrics are reserved for special occasions. Dyeing is a highly valued skill passed from mother to daughter. The various processes use vegetal chemicals, especially indigo. Weaving skills are transmitted between males within the family. The dress varies depending on the occasion. But the long Muslim gown ('bubu') is usually worn after work. Under the 'bubu,' men wear a short blouse or a shirt over short trousers. They can complete it with a red Fez hat, a grass hat, or a decorated woven cotton one, and leather loafers. Women usually have a head-tie assorted to the design and color of their 'bubu' and a sarong-type wrapper around the waist. They like radiant colors and complicated ties. Sandals or leather loafers complete the apparel. The variety of combinations, the sophistication of designs, and the delicacy of patterns are combined, in such a way as to put the Sénégalese men and women at the fore front of fashion in Black Africa.


Hair dressing is another area of importance. As young as few months old, girls often have braids ornamented with beads and other small objects. A young boy has his head shaved, more or less accordingly to his family's style, however, Muslims generally prefer to keep it bare. Among some groups in the South, even boys have braids. Hair styles vary with age, and with ethnic identity. Another important element of the dress is jewelry in gold, silver, iron, and copper, particularly for big occasions. In fact, the Senegalese tailor, hair dresser, and jeweler are among the most exported talents to Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Contributed by:
Mohamed Mbodj
Associate Professor
History Department
Columbia University
New York NY 10027
Tel.: 212-854-2423
Fax: 212-854-4639

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Thanks to Dasha and Colle Ardo Sow, two of Senegal's foremost designers.

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