Heritage Month: South African cultures and their fashion
Our diversity is what makes South Africa one of the most beautiful countries in the world. With 11 official languages, each culture embraces the essence of what it means to be an African through food, music, dance and fashion.
This Heritage Month, we take a look at some of the traditional clothing worn by our beautiful nation.
For Xhosa women, the most common traditional wear is umbhaco. It is a long skirt and apron made from printed or embroidered fabrics. The Xhosa attire includes beaded necklaces, called ithumbu.
Worn by married women as a sign of respect to one’s husband and his family, isicholo is a flared disk-shaped hat. This hat is accompanied by a thick, cowhide skirt which has been softened with animal fat and charcoal, called isidwaba.
Men wear a front apron, known as an isinene, and a rear apron, ibheshu, to cover the genitals and buttocks.
This culture is big on colours and beads. Worn by married women, idzila is an accessory placed around the neck, arms, and legs. Their colourful blanket, umbalo, is also for married women. And then there is the signature beaded headband known as amacubi.
The main item of clothing for men is an iporiyana. Decorated with beads, it hangs on the neck. They also wear animal skin called karos to keep warm.
The Vavenda wear munwenda, a multi-coloured striped cloth that comes in two pieces – a top and a bottom. It is paired with beads such as lutomola tsie, mapala, tshithivho vivho, zwifudzi, magidipho, and makunda. They also have musisi, a skirt-like garment made from the munwenda material.
The most iconic clothing item in the Xitsonga culture is xibelani. It is a knee-length skirt typically worn by Xitsonga women. It is made from a bolt of cloth, a fabric called salempur, about 18m long. They also have a top called a yele that they wear with a tightly fitting T-shirt.
Tswana women wear an apron called a khiba, with a skirt called a mosese. Men wear a kaross, a blanket made from animal skin, to cover up.
They wear a traditional Basotho dress called the seshoeshoe. However, a statement piece is the Basotho blanket, worn by both men and women over the shoulders.
The Swati culture is complex as their clothing style varies according to age and gender. Some items are reserved for specific ceremonies, such as the incwala or the umhlanga (reed dance).
However, married women wear skin aprons and skin skirts. They also have another apron they wear under the armpits; after the birth of their first child they put the same apron over one shoulder and style their hair in a bun. Married men wear loin skins.
A sari or Punjabi is synonymous with Indian culture. The sari is a 6m stretch of fabric, which is beautifully wrapped around the waist and then draped over the shoulder. It's worn for prayers, special occasions like weddings and at funerals as a form of respect. The Punjabi is a long or knee-length dress paired with pants. It's very comfortable and can be worn dressed-up or dressed-down, depending on the occasion.
Indian women generally accessorise with sparkly bangles and some wear a nose ring.
Men usually wear a kurta, which is a loose, knee-length collarless shirt. There are casual and formal options.
Check some of the best South African traditional food recipes to try on our website, www.iol.co.za.