This outfit looks great – formal and regal. And it’s very different from the popular idea of how African men dress. A lot of people still believe that, in Africa, traditional clothing consists of a loincloth, jewelry, and body paint. That’s not true. We can often describe African folk garments as modest, opulent, and elegant. And agbada is one of such garments, being formal, sophisticated, and beautifully adorned with embroidery.
The attire is called “agbada” in Nigeria, particularly by the Yoruba people. But it has different other names, depending on the area where the piece if used. The agbada can be also called “boubou”, “gandora”, “grand boubou”, “mbubb”, and so on.
This outfit has all the typical features of African clothing (it’s wide and flowing, made from thin natural fabric, adorned with African folk patterns, etc), but it looks very formal at the same time. The agbada is festive apparel rather than a day-to-day one. Also, it really looks expensive.
The agbada is a full set of clothing. It consists of 4 items: a long-sleeved shirt called “awotele”, a large loose outer garment, open at the front, called “awosoke”, drawstring pants that narrow towards the ankle called “sokoto”, and a headdress – kind of a skull-cap.
All the pieces, except for the cap, are made in the same color, from the same fabric, usually fine cotton. Although modern agbada can be made from synthetic fabrics, and look a lot different from original cotton agbada.
The awosoke is ornate, richly embellished with embroidery, and very wide. It is draped around the body with several large pleats, because a lot of fabric is used to create this garment.
The headpiece is a round cap with a hard frame so that it never lost its shape. It is similar to a skull-cap but higher, with a flat crown.
The agbada is worn very specifically – so that the upper garment awosoke always was above the ground. When a man sits down, he makes sure to drape the folds over his shoulders or arms or in some other way avoids the hem touching the ground. This is due to the Islamic tradition to avoid impurity. Even so, this garment is not limited to Muslims, every African man can wear it.
The origin of this attire is believed to be from the 12th or 13th century. In the 16th century, it widely spread throughout West Africa, and even more so in the 19th century. Today, variations of agbada are considered the national dress among many African ethnic groups and in a number of African countries.
Of course, this attire isn’t used by Nigerian men in daily life. Rather, they wear it for religious ceremonies, weddings, important celebrations, formal meetings, funerals, etc. The agbada is often passed from one generation to the next and considered the family heirloom. It became an important part of Nigerian traditional culture.