habesha kemis avaThe folk dress of Habesha people from Ethiopia and Eritrea is the world-famous habesha kemis. This garment is like a visit card of these countries – when you see a long snow-white dress with colorfully embroidered borders and stylized cross-shaped patterns, you immediately think about Ethiopia or Eritrea, or at least about Africa. These outfits are not only pretty and sophisticated, they became a part of modern fashion culture. Many fashion designers make their contemporary collections based on habesha kemis features and folk embroidery, so these dresses are worn by women in day-to-day life, which is awesome.

The traditional women’s dress in Ethiopia is called “habesha kemis”, where habesha means Abyssinian people (Ethiopians and Eritreans as one ethnic group) and kemis means dress.

This dress is charming. It is usually white (or more rarely beige, cream, light-gray) and adorned with beautiful embroidery. The embroidery patterns traditionally are situated on the borders of the clothes (cuffs, hem, neckline, etc.) and at the front. The high-quality habesha kemises are embellished only with handmade embroidery – it can take up to a month to make one garment.


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Little girl’s habesha kemis with cute embroidery


Also, very typical for the habesha kemis are embroidered cross-shaped patterns in vibrant colors. These stylized crosses at the front of a dress are a characteristic feature of Ethiopian female attire.

The fabric used to make habesha kemis is cotton because of the hot climate in Ethiopia. This material is perfect for everyday clothing in Africa, not mentioning the festive outfits. The snow-white cotton dresses with colorful embroidery – in traditionally African color palette – look so festive and opulent.

Ethiopian kemis is always ankle-length, especially the formal dress. It is even worn for such special occasions as weddings (for the bride and for wedding guests), formal meetings, various celebrations, religious ceremonies, etc.


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Simple everyday habesha kemis


Ethiopian women love their habesha kemis and wear this style of clothing even in modern times. A lot of fashion designers get inspiration for their collections from these beautiful dresses, so there are plenty of modern kemises in contemporary design for the women to wear. This is one of those traditional garments that became a large part of modern fashion culture and is often worn in real life instead of only being kept in museums. One of the reasons for that is the perfect cut and choice of fabric for Africa.

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