African Fashion: Underappreciated and Under-studied?

“They know about European dress. They might even be able to touch on East Asian dress and clothing,” she adds. “But they know nothing about the Americas or Africa or anything like how this affects people and why it affects people.”

That’s Teleica Kirkland on teaching Western fashion industry insiders about the the African diaspora’s fashion heritage, from this profile in okafrica. Kirkland is the founder of the London-based Costume Institute of the African Diaspora, the goal of which is to be a “‘growing resource hub’ for knowledge sharing around African clothing and dress.”.

One difference that Kirkland notes about the clothing of the African diaspora is how dynamically utilitarian it is:

“The history of clothing is not preserved the way history of clothing is preserved in a European context or in the American context,” says Kirkland. “Everything in the Caribbean is used until it can’t be used again, which means it’s disintegrated. But then, even that history is interesting: trying to explain how a dress becomes a skirt, a shirt becomes a baby’s nappy or a baby’s outfit, then becomes a rag, and then becomes something else until there’s nothing left of it—this explains the context of how people relate and engage with their clothing in that particular way.”