African Fashion Culture

The Mystery Behind Traditional Clothing in Tanzania

Traditional clothing in Tanzania.
Written by See Africa Today

Traditional clothing in Tanzania speaks of modesty, brightness, and customs. Over 100 tribes live in here, each with its clothing traditions, folk garments, and decorations.

For a visitor, the first impression of a customary outfit seems “too much”. Thinking it’s too many layers of cloth wrapped helter-skelter around the body, too many colors and patterns, and too many weird jewels, something like that.

But if you look closer, you’ll discover the harmony and unicity of Tanzanian traditional clothing. Tanzanians feel comfortable wrapped in their colorful traditional fabrics and beaded adornments.

How do Men Dress in Tanzania?

Traditional clothing in Tanzania

Traditional clothing in Tanzania. The Men kanzu. Photo/Wikipedia

Men in Tanzania often like less colorful fabrics than women. The traditional clothing in Tanzania for males is a kanzu—white or beige colored robe.

Originally, they made Kanzu in silk, but today, polyester and other synthetic fabrics are used. For the official events, Tanzanian men wear a kanzu, the traditional cap, and a European-style suit jacket or the traditional cloak called “bisht”.

For informal events, a Saudi manufactured robe with a mandarin collar or the dashiki shirt and a kofia is the traditional attire. They often wear Tanzanian kanzu with a headdress called “kofia”, a cylindrical cap with a flat crown.

They usually decorate Kofia with embroidery. It also has tiny pinholes throughout the entire body of the hat, meant for air circulation.

What Tanzanian Women Wear

The main traditional clothing in Tanzania for women is Kanga, a rectangular cotton cloth made from cotton. Locally produced in Tanzania and Kenya, Kanga has printed patterns and printed words on it.

They cut kanga in half, wrap one half around their waist like a skirt, and the other half around their shoulders and head. Female kanga is not just a dress, it is a way to express their thoughts, opinions, and beliefs, and it is an honored tradition.

Kitenge, made out of a thicker textile, is another traditional clothing for women in Tanzania. Tanzanian kangas and kitenges are part of Swahili culture. It belongs to them from birth to death, as they always have these traditional clothes in their possession. It is also very common to gift them to the female members of the family at a wedding. More than just a piece of cotton, it is the fabric of Tanzanian culture.

Wealthier women wear a floor-length black dress called a bui-bui, which is worn over pants or dresses with an attached headscarf.

Traditional clothing in Tanzania.

Traditional clothing in Tanzania. Kanga. Photo/Tourism Observer

 What is the Most Appropriate Clothing for Tourists in Tanzania?

Packing for a trip to Africa can be a daunting task because it’s a whole different culture and may make you anxious about what kind of clothing is appropriate.

Tanzanians are conservative and religious, and their dressing reflects this. They reflect the value of modesty in their dressing which is what traditional Tanzanian clothing is all about.

What to Wear as a Female Tourist

To fit in and enjoy your visit, ladies should wear clothes that do not expose their thighs and cleavage. Avoid wearing very short skirts or shorts and strappy tops, as this will offend the locals.

When you go to the Tanzanian streets and public markets, it is a great idea to wear trousers or a knee-length or longer skirt, and tops that cover your shoulders. Besides being decent, they will protect you from the sun, too.

While visiting a religious building like a church or mosque, you will need to be extra careful since the rules are strict here. You don’t want to be kicked out for dressing inappropriately.

A pashmina or sarong can also come in handy for sun protection or to ‘glam’ up the simplest of outfits if you feel like a change.

If visiting towns and villages, the local women wear an array of colours, so add your pashmina or a wrap to brighten up your outfit.

If you are within your hotel or in your tour van, you can let loose and not worry, since you will not be running into many locals in this setting. If you are visiting the beautiful beaches, pack your swimwear but keep it strictly to the beach or pool area, otherwise cover up with a pashmina not to offend the Muslim community.

What to Wear as a Male Tourist

Long trousers and a polo shirt are the best choices for a male tourist in Tanzania. Shorts are also ok if you are within the hotel or in your tour van and not in the local community.

While on a game safari, avoid brightly colored clothes, stick to whites, beiges, khakis, and brown colors. There may be long hours sitting in safari vehicles, so it is advisable to wear light, comfortable clothing like short-sleeved shirts and cotton trousers or shorts.

It is no doubt that Western-style outfits are very popular in the country, but many Tanzanians still use their traditional clothes.

To the women of Tanzania, the Kanga is not just a dress; it is an honored tradition, a means to express their beliefs, thoughts, and opinions. It is a reason traditional clothing in Tanzania will continue to live on. It is their culture and culture can never die.

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About the author

See Africa Today

Pharis Kinyua is the editor of See Africa Today. With over seven years of experience in digital media, he has a soft spot for African tours and travel. His drive is to tell the rest of the world what Africa offers, the best accommodation facilities, national parks, culture, shopping malls and best airline deals to travel to Africa

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