Jesusegun Alagbe and Tope Omogbolagun
Every generation in every country of the world usually has its unique lifestyle. The people of each generation usually have a popular fashion expression, especially when it comes to clothing, footwear, lifestyle, accessories, makeup and hairstyles.
In terms of fashion, it is said that West Africa, particularly Nigeria, has a long history of fashion, dating back to the 16th Century when cloths were used as currency in trade with the Portuguese and Dutch.
Then, a growing elite class of West Africans as well as gold and slave traders were said to usually assemble locally produced cloths with European imports to create new styles. It was said that there was an exceptionally strong tradition of cloth-weaving in the Oyo Empire and other areas inhabited by the Igbo.
From that time to the independence era in the 60s as well as the 70s and 80s, Nigerians, both men and women, were known to be fashionable, donning unique attire, hairstyles, and footwear.
Meanwhile, the fashion trends of the pre and post independence eras were said to have gone out of style in the 1990s and early 2000s, paving way for modern fashion trends.
However, due to fashion fluidity, some of those old fashion trends have now started making a comeback, thanks to a growing class of young and middle-aged Nigerians who seem to have found new love for what is now popularly described as “old school.”
In fact, many corporate organisations in Nigeria now also celebrate important dates such as anniversary with their workers donning the ‘old school’ attire.
Below are some of the pre and post-independence fashion styles now adopted by some of today’s fashionistas.
Oleku fashion styles
Oleku is the name for short blouses popularly known as ‘buba’ and ‘iro’ (wrapper) usually worn above the knee up to mid-thigh. The name was coined after a popular Yoruba movie by Tunde Kelani titled, ‘Oleku’ which is an adaptation of a book written by Prof Akinwumi Isola. The movie released in the early 90s portrayed the lifestyle of people in the 70s and many of the female dressed in the short-sleeved blouse and knee-length wrappers.
In the past, there was no party without an ‘Oleku’ for the women. Whenever there was an occasion, many women donned ‘olekus.’ It was a signature dressing back then, especially among Yoruba ladies. It looked like the style went out of fashion in the early 2000s but it is now back in full swing.
It isn’t just worn by individuals but has even gone as far as being uniforms for ushers. The apparel never goes wrong, especially when worn by ladies with long legs.
Celebrities who gracefully wear ‘oleku’ include Ifeoluwa Otedola (aka DJ Cuppy). She has been seen wearing ‘oleku’ in many of her social media photos.
For Omolola Quadri, wearing ‘oleku’ has always been a thing of pride because according to her, she is representing her culture.
“I am not just representing my culture as a Yoruba lady, I am also trendy. Anything skimpy is trendy and I like mine well above the knee. It’s the style among the millennials. From my point of view, it is a statement of an out-of-the ordinary way of wearing a common style,’ she said.
Africans, especially Nigerians, were known for wearing natural hair. The men rocked afro styles while the women packed their natural hair upwards and sometimes in different styles. Women then moved to perming and jerry curls. However, in the last decade, many women have found their way back to natural hairstyle and embraced their identity as black women.
Some Nigerian women are dumping relaxers and embracing their natural kinky locks. People everywhere now celebrate ‘team natural.’ When more women began returning to wearing natural hair, there were tutorials on how to get the perfect twist out, roller set, bantu knot out.
A natural hair enthusiast, Aina Balogun, said she had embraced the style because her hair was always breaking.
She said, “I really don’t know if it is an ‘old school’ style. I am used more to wearing the jerry curls but when I was perming my hair, I realised that it was breaking too much, so my hairdresser advised that I should go natural, and since then it has started working for my hair. I became a ‘naturalista’ out of necessity and not necessarily because I want to make a fashion statement.”
Also, Halima Sanni said wearing natural hair was a way of embracing the black culture.
She said, “My grandma wore natural hair till she died. I used to plan my hair before but seeing people like Chimamanda Adichie wear natural hair, it made me see the need to keep what is ours and embrace it. It’s better than perming hair. It strengthens the hair and gives it a fuller texture. Our hair is thick and full and that’s what makes us Africans.”
Polka dots will never go out of fashion. They have never been out of fashion and from generation to generation; they have continually stayed with the people. It is a retro fashion that has returned several times.
It has kept improving and the latest of the trend is the big dots and many Nigerian women now have at least a piece of Polkadots in their wardrobe.
Ifunaya Kalu said she picked up the polkadots culture from her mum who told her how much she loved polka dots back then.
She said, “My mum told me that she liked polka dots as a young lady and she really loved wearing them. I have polka dots design of everything – shoes, skirts, dresses, and trousers. I have both the small and big polka dots. In fact, my friends call me Miss Polka dots.
“Polka dots have never been out of fashion; they just keep being updated. Most of the things we wear now, including our purses and bags, are ‘old school.’ I see them in some of my mum’s pictures and this makes me realise that fashion is always recycled.”
Midi dresses and Maxi skirts
Maxi skirts are full-length skirts and they look absolutely fantastic. They are also versatile. Now they are usually worn for a range of occasions along with every season. Additionally, the comfortable and chic style can flatter anybody.
Back then, midi dresses were common in floral prints but now they come in different prints, patterns, colours and even shape.
For Biola Obaoye, her signature dressing is midi dresses/maxi skirts. According to the mixologist, fashion is comfort and that she has embraced.
She said, “I love the maxi dress because they usually make me comfortable. I like them either they are in trend or not. I don’t see fashion as being exclusive. It’s always recycled. Before you know it, something ‘old school’ would return.
“I don’t think midi-dresses have ever gone out of fashion. But maxi is always going forth and back.”
‘Eko Bridge’ hairstyle
‘Eko Bridge’ is a treaded hairstyle made with rubber and a particular kind of thin thread. One of the characteristics of the thread back then was that it shone like rubber. It was a popular hairstyle in the 60s and named after the Eko Bridge.
This Nigerian hairstyle retro style made a strong comeback years back and has remained till date. Though many ladies now use Brazilian wool instead of the thread.
Nigerian artiste Tiwa Savage promoted this hairstyle in her recent hit music video, ’49-99.’
Eva Ayuba, who is known for her funny hairstyles on social media, said she tried to replicate old African culture.
She said, “I am African and I sincerely embrace my roots. The hair is beautiful and I am a model. I deliberately project the African culture as a brand. We are beautiful in our skin.”
During the 60s, platform shoes were fashionable, although they weren’t as tall as they are today. In addition, stilettos are popular now.
Platform shoes or sandals are footwear with thick heels. Many of them are finding their way back to the homes of many Nigerians. There are also platform slippers and sneakers for the trendy women.
Any shoe manufacturer who doesn’t include platform footwear in its collection is likely not looking for millennials as customers for they are as a huge fan of stilettos.
Mrs Peculiar Tony said she knew that platform shoes were ‘old school’, stating that the new designs looked better than what they used to be.
Tony stated, “My mum had platform slippers back then but what we have now is obviously better than what they used to have. I am glad that fashion is improving in this part of the world.”
Also known as braces, suspenders are fabric or leather straps worn over the shoulders to hold up trousers. The straps may be elasticated, either entirely or only at attachment ends, and most straps are of woven cloth forming an X or Y shape at the back. Suspenders are typically attached to trousers with clips or buttons using leather tabs at the ends.
Suspenders were once almost universally worn, due to the high cut of mid-19th and early 20th century trousers that made wearing belts impractical. Suspenders were once out of fashion as trousers with belt loops reigned, but there has now been a resurgence in its interest.
A Lagos-based banker, Soji Babajide, said his interest in wearing suspenders was due to influence by some of Nigerian artistes who have also found love for suspenders.
He noted, “Suspenders are cool on me. I wear them when I wear trousers without belt loops. I just seem to have fallen in love with ‘old school’ fashion. I feel comfortable in them.”
Babajide said he believed fashion was evolutionary rather than revolutionary, describing it as the reason some ‘old school’ fashion styles had become in vogue again. He said, “I think fashion is fluid and evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Some of the fashion styles in vogue today were created in the past. What was in vogue 50 years ago might be back today, and if it’s cool, people will embrace it.”
The civil rights movement by African-Americans in the United States brought a renewed sense of identity to the African–American community, which also resulted in a redefinition of personal style that included an appreciation of black beauty and aesthetics. This cultural movement marked a return to more natural, untreated hairstyles.
Thus, the Afro became a powerful political symbol which reflected black pride to some African-Americans also represented a reconstitutive link to West Africa and Central Africa.
The popularity of the Afro started to wane in the 70s but has since regained momentum and even rocked by celebrities such as Bright Okpocha (aka Basketmouth), Ibrahim Chatta, as well as Nse-Ikpe Etim and TY Bello.
Looking at pictures of the independence era fashionistas, they donned trousers with flares that could literally swallow babies. People jokingly labelled such flared trousers as, “Keep Lagos Clean” – with the belief that the trouser flares could literally sweep the city clean.
Flared trousers have since made a comeback, and there are many awesome ways to rock them, like wearing them with tight or loose tops, T-shirts, and cashmere sweaters.
A short suit is a piece of formal wear–consisting of a jacket, slacks and sometimes a vest– that incorporates a pair of shorts instead of trousers. Short suits are men’s formal wear from back in the day and were worn by respectable professionals such as school headmasters and principals.
Interestingly, short suits have now found their way back to this era, with many Nigerians wearing them on dates important to them. Some corporate organisations also seem to have encouraged their workers to don short suits on important dates.
The dashiki is a colourful garment for men and women worn mostly in West Africa. It covers the top half of the body and has both formal and informal versions. It varies from simple draped clothing to fully tailored suits. A common form is a loose-fitting pullover garment, with an ornate V-shaped collar, and embroidered neck and sleeve lines.
Known to be worn by Nigerians in the olden days, the dashiki seems to have found new love by many young Nigerians today.
“I like rocking the dashiki shirt, especially at weekends due to its dual appearance of simplicity and colourfulness. It speaks of African creativity in handcrafting,” said Tolulope Ibitayo, a programmer based in Ibadan, Oyo State capital.
Fashion evolving not static –Culture experts
A professor of literature at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Segun Adekoya, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Segun Adekoya, said the fluidity of fashion and the people’s boredom were always responsible for a change in fashion style.
He said, “Fashion comes and goes. It’s a natural cycle. People fall in love with a style today, and after some time, they get bored. You know, boredom is one of the issues facing humanity. People want a change in style, and later on, the new fashion style becomes old-fashioned and people desire something else. That’s always the pattern, whether in culture or literature.
“I’m not surprised that the old-fashioned styles are returning because the past always get connected with the present. The present cannot even exist without the past, and the past will not also exist but for the present in which it is manifesting. There’s an interchange between the two and it is manifest in every area of culture.”
Adekoya said the past and the present were always interconnected, noting that whenever the past was brought to the present, there was usually some form of ingenuity.
He added, “When the past is brought back, it comes with some ingenuity. It doesn’t look exactly the way it was then. It’s going to be transformed. Whatever is bought from the past must be renewed or transformed to appeal to the people of the new age. Innovation must be there. The ability to copy is even innovational.”
Also, an artist and culture advocate, Mr Mufu Onifade, said a revisit to the past was part of human development, stating that fashion was not static.
He said, “It is often fashionable that at every interval in human development, there is always a cause for atavistic throwback. It’s a revisit to the past. It is part of human development. Fashion and style, of course, are not alien to culture and human development.
“They are part and parcel of it and, therefore, only natural that changes will always occur in fashion and style. And such changes manifest through atavistic revisit to the past. The reason is also because culture is never static. It is dynamic and thus evolves from time to time.”