Tomorrow I’m going to a wedding, and with any luck, I’ll be wearing the same dress as most of the other women there (and it’s not because I’m a bridesmaid)!
One thing that is very different here from back home: In the U.S. if a woman walked into church or the office wearing the same dress as another, the reaction would be great chagrin. Not here! Fabrics come and go in popularity, and everyone will buy the same print to have an outfit made, so you often meet people wearing the same thing. Additionally, for events like weddings or holidays, groups go out of their way to buy the same material and wear it together. It’s called a “uniform.” In fact, every year the Malian Association of Evangelicals puts out a Christmas design so that we all go to church on Dec. 25 wearing the same thing.
The textiles are one of the most fun and interesting aspects of Malian life. Brilliant colors and designs guarantee that life in this often-brown (due to the dust) country is never dull. Interestingly, many of the best-quality fabrics are manufactured in the U.K. and Holland, where they have textile industries entirely for export to Africa consisting of loud cotton prints which no European woman would be caught dead in.
Ready-made clothing is rare here. You buy the fabric you like and take it to a tailor. Unlike in North America and Europe, a trip to the tailor is not an expensive luxury. It’s an everyday necessity and quite affordable, and a common profession among men.
Some of the patterns I’ve seen over the years in church, in shops, or on the street:
- Lots of florals and geometric designs.
- Numbers and letters.
- Soccer balls.
- Disembodied fingers.
- Chickens (one of the first uniforms I ever had had chickens, roosters, and chicks on it, with lines of eggs all around. UG-LEE).
- A hand holding a spray can, with a triangle of spray being squirted.
- Badminton raquets & birdies.
- The backs of ladies’ heads showing hairstyles.
- One Sunday in church, I saw a shirt covered in laptop computers.
- I also saw a lady with a large safety pin design on her dress, where the tailor had rather unfortunately located a pin across her buttocks so that it looked like she needed it to keep the seam together!
- Images of people, such as the president of Mali, the First Lady, or perhaps a popular imam (Muslim preacher) and of course, Barack Hussein Obama! One of my Peace Corps friends boasts two different BHO outfits.
If you want to see a sample of African Obama fabric, check out #6 in this gallery: