9 October 2012

Uganda: How Fashion Has Evolved Over the Years

Fashion has always been and will be a reflection of society; it cannot happen in a vacuum. In the 1960s, women wore minis, teetered on platform heels, some boldly went braless (the mind boggles) and the huge afros were the in-thing.

African states were getting independence from white colonialists and in America, the black civil movement was embraced,"

According to Keturah Kamugasa, a fashionicen, who works with the New Vision.

The 1960s:

Sanny Kirya first lived in the rural areas, but later tasted the urban life and never turned back. She had a feel of the fashions that dominated the social scene during the 1960s and years later.

She says afros were the in-thing. Men too kept their hair long unlike today where they prefer having it short. Others stuck in their hair, a wooden comb as an accessory.

According to Joyce Mpanga, women too had style in dressing although most of them went for the British conservative style. She is one of the people who attended the live event at Kololo and even went for the garden party.

Many women adopted suits, hats and body stockings as their signature wear throughout the early 1960s. They also wore long dresses mimicking the British conservative culture.

Even for brides, the fashion was not exceptional, on her wedding in 1965, Mpanga's changing dress had a full length coat, with a hat and gloves. Among the upper class traditional wear remained a reserve for traditional ceremonies.

Women elevated their height with the closed platform shoes nicknamed Gabon, which also gave them a chic look. Those shoes have now been replaced with the sharper stilettos, pumps and wedges.

Kirya also remembers dresses famously known as 'twist and tight'. They adopted this name because of their style and what they could enable the wearer to do. Much as they were tight from top to waist, they were free following to allow her twirl around when during the twist dance.

These dresses with pleats made a great fashion comeback in the 21st century.

Transition in 1970s:

Liberations that were occurring around the world in the 1960s and 1970s like the black power movement, feminist movement and birth control movement started impacting on Africa too.

According to Fashion expert Keturah Kamugasa, Fashion in the 1970s reflected a sense of freedom, courage and liberation.

Women had more courage to expose acres of leg and thigh! The 1970s saw the disco era; neon eye shadow, psychedelic colours and prints, polo necks, and wide bell bottomed trousers, which were a sign of liberation.

Ladies too donned trousers though still held on to their dresses and skirts which they deemed as more feminine and elegant

"People then had so much respect compared to people now," rebuts Kirya.

She adds that today, the connotations are quite different. "While back in the days, wearing short skirts could have been merely interpreted as 'riding with the tide', today, it is different. The girl may be labeled as a slut for wearing similar clothing," Kirya explains.

Between 1980s and 1990s:

In the late 1980s and 1990s, a woman risked being undressed if she dared go downtown in a mini. In 2000s, however, the perception changed and woman would freely wear mini attire.

For the men, bell bottom trousers were the in thing. Everyone made an effort to have a pair of the trousers. At first, they had turn-ups, but later dropped them.

Overalls too were both won by the men and women albeit in different fashion to suit the sexes. Double braced coats first made their arrival and then were partly followed by the coats with back slits.

Round hats were a vital accessory for every man unlike today. Most old men likened those hats to respect and therefore wore them all the time.


According to Kamugasa, the 1980s were the time for masculine tailoring and huge shoulder pads as women took positions previously jealously guarded by men. Women were now running the corporations. In a bid to be taken seriously in and out of the boardroom, they dressed like men for work.

Come the 1990s and we see women's fashion softening a bit as both men and women came to the realisation that women were not mere visitors at the top be it social, corporate, political or economic.

Uganda has experienced all these changes along with the rest of the world, albeit in her own context. The 1990s ushered in plenty of glamour and lots of freedom.

There is no so much fear in revealing clothing or rather exposing their undergarments.

Women are more visible in all arenas now and they have disposable income that allows them to shop where they want, wear what they want and vote for whom they please.

With political representation and the women's movement, the woman now had a voice and can fight for her rights. That could be the reason why she is now free to expose as much flesh as she wants.

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