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Traditional Attires in Nigeria

Traditional Attires in Nigeria


Traditional Attires in Nigeria

The richness of our culture


By Chidinma Prisca Elebe {[email protected]}

Decades ago, people had always worn outfits trending in the western world especially with the influence of colonization. The elites that first received formal education with their ties and suites were the envy of everyone because of their exotic outfits and everyone followed the trend. This became popular leaving an impression on the younger generation. Various workplaces and schools adopted and accepted these western outfits as their official mode of dressing. The recent increase in globalization has also led to cultural integration and evolution making us to prefer other people’s indigenous attires to our own.
Recently, there has been a cultural awareness especially with the media promoting our culture, although it can also be attributed to the use of better cameras and ingenious styling of the traditional fabric making it to look more appealing and attractive. Another reason might be the modeling of these outfits by celebrities and prominent members of the society. Truth be told, there is no one else in a better position to promote our culture than us.

In Nigeria, we have various kinds of traditional outfits that show the richness in our culture but the appeal of these outfits starts from our sense of fashion and style to the fabrics these outfits are made from. These traditional outfits can be made with the Abada/Ankara fabric (the most popular African textile) or a traditional lace, tie and dye (tie-die) in the North, the stripped monochrome in Benue i.e. North-central, the white top and George from the South-south, Ashoke/Asoke from the South-west etc.


Many types of traditional attires are worn for various occasions and can also reveal the identity (tribe, culture, country) of the person clad in them.


Agbada: A lot of people believe that the agbada attire can be traced to the Yoruba culture but it has been said to have also originated from the trading groups such as the Berbers, Tuaregs due the trans-Saharan trade. The loose fitting and voluminous attire was ideal for riding horses and serves as protection from the elements. It wasn’t long before the attire became a status symbol especially among the nobles. The agbada attire is common to various African countries such as Mauritania, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, etc. It can be made from heavy fabrics such as the Northern weave (Aso Oke) or lighter materials like cotton. In Nigeria, the Hausa tribe also calls it “babariga” and it is presently worn by different people cutting across tribes and culture. The agbada attire is a four piece clothing made up of the following:

Awosoke: The outer part that is free flowing usually reaching the ankle or knee, sometimes people opt for the waist length with rectangular embroidery in front.


Awotele: The under shirt with a loose fitting worn under the awosoke. This shirt can be long sleeves or short sleeves although a lot of people prefer the long sleeve nowadays.

Sokoto/ Shokoto: This is the trousers/ pants of the outfit which is worn without a belt because the waist is usually secured by a draw-string. The trouser can be loose fitting or tight depending on the preference of the wearer.

Fila: This is the cap or head gear used to complete the agbada ensemble. There are different kinds of cap such as the abetiaja, the gobi, the hat with flaps at both sides and a round hat.


This outfit has evolved so much that even the female folks wear them too. Besides the rich embroidery it is adorned with, it can also be accessorized with traditional caps, beads, shoes and staff. Agbada can be a striking attire when worn with style, it represents the African greatness and diversity.

Ishiagu: This is pure Igbo attire worn by traditional rulers and sometimes their Lolo (spouses). The fabric was also initially associated with status symbol because it was worn by accomplished Igbo men. This outfit is usually made from a heavy suede material with lion heads patterned all over the fabric. It can be styled using rich culture beads, staff, offor, hand fan and variety of caps (the red or the striped cap) for the men. It can be worn over a trouser or wrapper as the case maybe. This attire exudes confidence, strength and pride just like the lion imprinted on the fabric.

Aso Oke: This is mostly found among the Yoruba tribe. The fabric is usually hand woven and worn by wealthy people. This can be observed from the translation of its name “top cloth” meaning cloth of high status. It can be used to make different outfits ranging from tops (buba), wrapper (iro), baggy trousers, agbada and headgear (gele). This fabric is so rich that it has become a popular fashion piece among Nigerian ladies in general.

Gele: This is a type of headgear usually worn by ladies as a large headscarf/headtie. It is worn by women across western and Southern Africa. Yoruba ladies also use it across the shoulder as part of their style. It is an elaborate fashion accessory targeted at making statement by women in ceremonies especially in Nigeria. They are worn to church services, wedding ceremonies, naming ceremonies, funerals, chieftaincy celebrations and other festivals. They cover the head and sometimes, the ears are tucked under with just the face and earrings showing.

Etibo: This traditional attire is predominant in the southern part of Nigeria especially the Niger-Delta. The former Nigerian head of state, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan made this attire very popular during his tenure as the president. This attire originally comprises of a white shirt worn over a wrapper but in recent times, people wear them over a pair of trousers. Etibo is no longer restricted to just a white traditional top. It has metamorphosed into a variety of colors too. Women wear them as just gowns or skirt or over trousers/ shorts/ leggings. It is styled using accessories like jewelries, cufflinks, staff, walking stick, hats or caps, shoes, sandals, neck and hand beads etc. This outfit is quite trendy and popular among Nigerian men and can be made from varieties of fabrics such as cashmere, cotton or Ankara etc.

This outfit makes every Nigerian man glamorous and brings out every ounce of masculinity worthy of admiration.

THE BENUE MONOCHROME ATTIRES: The most popular outfit of the Benue people is the black and white monochrome of the Tiv tribe but there are also other beautiful varieties of this monochrome attires ranging from the blue and black of the Igede tribe to the red/ox blood and black for the Idoma tribe respectively. These attires showcase the uniqueness and diversity of Benue State.

MUDUKARE: This is a beautiful white outfit designed with red, blue and green embroidery although there are other variations now. It is typically made into a sleeveless top and worn over a wrapper or trouser. It is also accompanied by beads and bracelets and a headgear. It is worn by the Fulani tribe from the northern part of Nigeria, Senegal, guinea etc. A Fulani bride always dazzles in the mudukare attire owing to the vibrant colours and radiating beauty.

THE ANKARA FABRIC/ PRINT: The Abada/Ankara fabric is a versatile material that represents Africa at large but various prints depict different countries and their style. Bringing it home to Nigeria, this fabric can be used to make different styles of outfits ranging from the simple to the luxurious which can be worn in official settings, wedding ceremonies, funerals, schools and as casual wears too.

We can take home a few lessons from this eye opening piece.

Nigeria is made up of diverse ethnic groups and highly multicultural. Some states have more than one ethnic groups and subgroups.

The dynamic nature of traditions and culture also contributes to changes in fashion and attires that are culturally acceptable i.e. in years to come, traditional attires might be different from the current trend.

These attires are rich, colorful and symbolize our African heritage.
Our choice of traditional attires were influenced by our early contact with the Europeans (e.g the etibo) and interactions with other tribes (e.g the agbada from the trans-saharan/sahelian traders).

Finally, these traditional attires have become popular and can be worn by people of different class, age and gender. Traditional attire showcases the richness of our diverse culture. It can also serve as a form of cultural identity or fashion statement. However, the dexterity and sense of style by Nigerian fashion designers have given more life and appeal to traditional attire.

It is quite important and gracious to wear any of these attires and improve its effect on the economy by patronizing our own, having an effect on the chain of distribution from the fabric vendors to the tailors/ designers/ stylists.

Nigeria is a country rich in cultural diversity and the above listed attires are just a few that have found its way into the mainstream media. Our traditional wears are quite numerous and cannot be exhausted in one sitting.

Be proud of your heritage and look the part!


Contents provided and/or opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of The Pacesetter Frontier Magazine or any employee thereof.

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