North African ethnic and tribal dress influencesNovember 12, 2014
North African ethnic tribal dress influences
In this final series we’re looking at the influence of North African ethnic and tribal dress influences on the West.
North Africa – geography and culture
This is certainly a fascinating part of the world, not least because it has undergone so many political divisions, colonial occupation and dynamic changes over the past few hundred years, language imposition and curtailment of personal freedoms. It’s what makes North Africa so fascinating, both culturally and geographically.
If you’re unsure of the geographical area of North Africa, then here is a quick reminder: North Africa consists of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and finally, Egypt.
So many different influences
As there are so many European as well as tribal influences in North Africa (Berba tribes being one), many parts of North Africa have become a melting pot of cultural influences intermingling, criss-crossing each other and fusing to create fascinating cultural diversity consisting of Berba tribes, Spanish, Portuguese, French and English colonists, all with their own cultures.
Patterns, colours and fabrics
Patterns are fundamentally important, as they are symbolic of particular messages as well as providing a colourful palette for the wearer. Patterns can tell the story of religion, war, trade and environmental disasters. Shapes and patterns are used as metaphors to tell a tale of language, liberty and warfare. The evil eye, an ever present danger, is warded off by combs to pierce the eye, birds and trees and other creatures of nature to ward off evil, keeping it at a safe distance.
Travel and influence
North African palettes, patterns and fabrics have filtered into Western fashion for the past 100 years at least, from those rich enough to travel and when travel became easier and more accessible for all.
It has graced the catwalks often, and more recently this year in New York during fashion week. The fashion duo Nicholas K showed off North African influences with loose trousers, shawls worn either at the waist or shoulder, and draped necklines matched by twisted hijabs on the head, giving a truly North African feel with hippy undertones.
In fact, North African patterned fabrics are so desirable right now, that technology is working hard to emulate the complicated designs. Technology may not be able reproduce these authentic patterns exactly, as traditionally these fabrics were spun, woven, using old weaving techniques passed down from one generation to another. Can they be ever as good using new, more sophisticated techniques?
They may not be able to capture the raw essence of North African culture, but as a fashion statement you’ll never make a more dramatic entrance.
Along with statement jewellery, Fatima hands, evil eyes, colourful beads and carefully draped shawls and headdresses, the look is dramatic and mysterious.
Vintage fabrics for an authentic look
If you’re looking to emulate a North African look then keep an eye out for unusual fabrics, 1970s maxi dresses for a bohemian, hippy look, with bright colours, mixed to form flower silhouettes and fleur de lis shadows, stripes and geometric shapes. Look out for vintage fabric pieces and drape imaginatively to create sarong type skirts or pashminas. You don’t have to be an accomplished dressmaker to create something with a North African feel, loose fabrics and statement jewellery can be enough.
Jebel Nafusa Berber woman
Moroccan Berber Amazigh Woman
Berber women of Morocco Exhibition March 21 – July 20, 2014 by Alaa Eddine Sagid
North African Influences
Berber Ring Ornament