Victorian ladies of Africa

photo source

Do you know that there are women out there who still wear Victorian dress? And not as dressing up for a festival or a costume ball but on everyday basis. The dress is even a symbol of their national unity. These women are of the Herero tribe living in Namibia. So, how did it happen that a Victorian dress became a traditional dress for these African women? At the time when missionaries arrived to Namibia the Herero women used to go around wearing literally nothing except for a short skirt. No wonder that this was not approved by the modest customs of the missionaries, and so the Herero women had to cover themselves up. And there was no other choice for them then to copy dresses that missionary women wore.

photo courtesy  Martha de Jong-Lantink

photo courtesy  Elmarie Mostert

was no other choice for them then to copy dresses that missionary women wore. The dress consists of an enormous crinoline worn over as many as five petticoats that use up 12 meters of fabric. Though having same design in general the outfit nevertheless let women show their personal skill and creativity by choosing bright colours, sewing on patchwork, adding frills and accessories. They finish off their outfits with unique hats in matching or contrasting fabrics which are said to replicate horns in honor of the cattle that their communities used to depend on so highly.

photo courtesy  Sally Walton

No doubt these dresses are heavy and hot to be in, especially taking African heat into consideration (how they handle it?). However, the Herero women keep tradition alive and are proud of their dresses.

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  1. These dresses are beautiful!! And these women are great, i'll never be able to wear them with the hot weather and, btw, they look always gorgeous! =D


  2. I've never heard of the Herero tribe before. I'm feeling sweaty just looking at these pics, I think that if I was a Herero woman I'd be tempted to go back to wearing just a short skirt, at least on really hot days ;)
    We have a large African community here where I live and many of them are devout Christians. On Sundays, they put on their most stunning dresses to go and praise the Lord. I love walking down the street and seeing the technicolor stream of women wearing amazing prints & patterns emerging after the service.
    I have amassed a small collection of second hand African clothing and I'm always amazed at how creatively constructed they are, intricate origami like pleating and amazing applique.
    I also adore the fantastic African head wraps but I've never come across a horn hat before ;)
    What a really interesting post...xXx

  3. This is an amazing fact, thank you for educating us about it. The dresses must take a long time to make, such lovely designs, xoxo.

  4. These dresses are fabulous. I'm really impressed. Thanks for the pics.

  5. I love the variety of colors and patterns in their dresses and how self confident they are presenting them.

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  7. Very unusual dresses. The fabrics are so colorful. Thank you for sharing.

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  9. Even if the story of how they started to wear the dress is a more than a bit sad ( to think of colonization is so depressing) I think they have managed to make most of it. They actually managed to bring the African spirit into it...as is obvious from the bold choice of colours! I see proud African spirit in these dresses and at least that is a positive thing:)

  10. No they are not sweaty by the way they absorbed the sweat and keep the one wearing it cool. I am an Omuherero, who wears traditional occassionaly...

    They are also easy and quick to make them...depending on the maker it can take two days to complete the entire garment...however I have to mentioned that it does takes about 8 to 9 yards of fabric...and tons of accessories...