Nigerian women who experienced the birth of the new nation in 1960 experimented with both indigenous and Western fashion influences, with an ethos informed by updating styles worn by previous generations – i.e. the women who came before them including mothers, aunties and so on. My mother, Agatha Gbegbaje-Das (née Mamoh), will turn 70 later this year, and she was part of this new generation of Modern-Nigerian women who, in the 1960s through to 1970s, celebrated their identity through fashion, reflective of a generation who were bold, confident, experimental and forward-thinking in their sense of dress, knowledge and choice of textiles.
In the recent pandemic-blighted months, I have found myself in lockdown with my parents, and we (being myself and my mother) have used this time for candid conversations, fueled by my curiosity to know more about her pre-marital life, as expressed in various family albums capturing her from late teens through to motherhood in her thirties. Through the re-visiting of family albums, I noticed my mother’s distinct style choices throughout her youth as a high school student at Abeokuta Girls Grammar School (the mid to late 1960s) her time at the University of Ibadan (between 1972-76), and finally, as a young mother in the early 1980s. The family album is perhaps the most underrated personal archive everyone has access to, given that, before the domination of digital technologies, albums were central to documenting key events, from birthdays, to anniversaries, to graduation. The three outfits I have chosen reflect a personal style that speaks of the changes in her style between 1964-1982 after Nigeria became an independent nation.
Mom wearing Ankara
Ankara is popularly known as ‘African wax print’ or ‘Dutch/Holland wax,’ a 100% cotton fabric with batik-inspired prints that originated in Indonesia. In 1846, Dutch industrialist Pieter Fentener van Vlissingen established a textile factory in Helmond, The Netherlands, that began manufacturing imitation prints based on Indonesian (Dutch East Indies) designs – Vlisco fabrics as they are now known to West Africa – beginning in Ghana during the colonial period. Today, Ankara prints, Vlisco and many more (the Chinese brand Hitarget is another popular fabric) are still prominent and popular fabrics for all, although there has been much debate about the ‘Africanness’ of these textiles originating in Europe. This photograph of my mother during her high school days with a friend on ‘casual Sunday’ captures her wearing an Ankara summer dress accessorized with a headscarf and sunglasses. She describes her and her peers’ obsession with fashion trends, the ‘mini’ as a dress length permeating into fashion, even what would be deemed traditional fabric, like Ankara. Her headscarf is pushed back to show off her hair, another signifier of her age as older ladies would generally fully tie their head scarves or head ties.
Listen to Agatha talk about dressing for school
Mom wearing Iro and Buba Aso-Oke
In this photograph, my mother is dressed in a beige and wine-coloured Aso-Oke Iro (wrapper), white lace Buba (blouse) and gele (head-tie). She stated that the Aso-Oke outfit wasn’t hers, but borrowed from her mother at the time, due to its expensive cost and rarity. It wasn’t uncommon to wear one’s mother’s clothes at a time when young women of the 1960s were exploring a range of influences. What is distinct in this image is that the length of the wrapper cloth is mini. An older generation such as her mother’s wouldn’t wear their wrapper this short.
Listen to Agatha talk about wearing Aso-Oke
Mom wearing Lace Bubu
My mom is pregnant in this image with her third child and is wearing a lace Bubu, a long, flowing, loose dress popular not only in Nigeria but in Senegal, Mali, Ghana and some other parts of Africa. She bought this ‘African Lace’ – an industrial imported fabric known locally as ‘Swiss Lace’ or ‘Austrian Lace’ – from Lagos’s famous Balogun Market, originating in Switzerland and Austria and exported to the continent.  This outfit she noted is one of her favourites, as she bought the lace in two colours, and loves the style’s practicality and ease.
 As Barbara Plankensteiner notes: The denomination for these textiles in Nigeria indicates their origin while at the same time denoting a hallmark of excellence: most frequently they are referred to as ‘Swiss lace,’ which also implies a quality criterion, although the term is often used for materials that in fact originate from Austria. The term ‘Austrian lace’ is also common and likewise stands for top quality. In international usage, the standard designation ‘African lace’ implies that this product is something unmistakably African.
Plankensteiner, B. ’African Lace: an industrial fabric connecting Austria and Nigeria.’ Anthrovision [Online], 1.2 | 2013, Online since 02 August 2013. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/anthrovision/679; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/anthrovision.679
Journal: Makinde, D. O., O. Ajiboye and Babatunde Joseph Ajayi. ‘Aso-Oke Production and Use among the Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria.’ The Journal of Pan-African Studies 3 (2009): 55.
Journal: Ojo, E.B. ‘Printing Contemporary Handwoven Fabrics (Aso-oke) in Southwestern Nigeria.’ Design Issues, 2007 23:2, 31-39, Posted Online March 22, 2007, https://doi.org/10.1162/desi.2007.23.2.31.
Journal: Sandbaye, M. ‘Looking at the family photo album: a resumed theoretical discussion of why and how.’ Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, 6:1, DOI: 10.3402/jac.v6.25419 .
Journal: Ajani, O. A. ‘Aso Ebi : The Dynamics of Fashion and Cultural Commodification in Nigeria.’ The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.6, September 2012, online, www.jpanafrican.org/docs/vol5no6/5.7-AAso%20Ebi.pdf
Article: ‘Fashioning the Nation: A blouse created by a Nigerian fashion innovator.’ https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/2020/06/16/fashioning-the-nation-a-blouse-created-by-a-nigerian-fashion-innovator/
Article: ‘Did you Know? The evolution of Iro and Buba.’ https://connectnigeria.com/articles/2018/03/know-evolution-iro-buba/