Hot Look: How to Wear Tribal Prints

| Sep 18, 2017
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Living in the heart of the old Mayan empire, tribal prints are a fashion given. Mexican dresses and skirts are colorful to say the least, so when I was exposed to Ankara prints from West Africa, it was but a small step to adopt these fashions too. They are BOLD and BEAUTIFUL and can be a bit overwhelming at first glance.


Mexican Aztec prints

Mexican Aztec prints

African "Ankara" prints

African “Ankara” prints

The Ankara fashion trend came originally from the streets of Lagos. After many years as a traditional African fashion style, Ankara has now become a worldwide trend being seen on catwalks throughout the world. As countless celebrities have been spotted wearing gorgeous Ankara designs, more and more people have adopted this new style as their own. Now, you can see Ankara everywhere on the streets and in the fashion boutiques, as these bold fabric designs have become increasingly more popular.

Suffice it to say — black ladies have been wearing Ankara prints and designing clothes with it for years upon years — even though fashion just discovered the “trend” ten years ago. Slate has a great explainer on the history of African wax prints and how they came to be synonymous with status and sophistication in West African nations.

Black ladies in ankara prints

Fashion enthusiasts all over the world, just can’t get enough of Ankara pieces. In fact, it is safe to say that Ankara designs have become so popular that they are now part of the mainstream fashion scene. Everyone from Beyonce’ to Kim Kardashian has embraced the new Ankara style. However, because Ankara prints tend to be very bold and bright, they are not for the fashionably coy or shy.

Beyonce and Kim Kardashian

Because Ankara is the word used to describe the bright printed fabric that is inspired by African fashion, Ankara style is not just found in clothes but also on bags, shoes, jewelry and accessories. But for the average person finding ways to incorporate Ankara into their everyday wardrobe can be difficult. Those who do not want to come across too “loud” but still wear this African inspired style can do so by implementing a few tried and true fashion secrets.

You can pull off an African print outfit and stay looking stunning by following these few guidelines. You can be sure that the print will look great and that the look is most likely to be memorable.

1- Confidence, something we’re not all born with but learn through time and growth, is absolutely necessary. If you walk out with your banana-print trouser and polka-dot shirt like you own it, guess what? You OWN it! Let out your inner fairy.

2- When I mix prints, I love to play within the same color family, or with colors I know absolutely complement each other. For example, if you mix any black and white prints, they ought to look fantastic together. Finish the look with a pop of color either on the lips or an accessory, and float around! For this outfit, although the prints are all different, many of colors repeat through the outfit. You’ll notice plenty of blues and pinks and reds. And because those prints generally go well together, although the outfit is busy, everything still flows.

3- Pair it with a neutral. African prints are usually very strong visually, as, at often times, they contain several colors and consist of many interesting lines, dots and color areas. Generally, to balance out a very busy print, you can always pair it with a solid neutral. This should definitely work and is a safe bet. For those who don’t know, in fashion, neutrals are a series of colors that can be matched to any other color and, obviously, to each other. These colors are beige, black, white, gray, dark blue, khaki, ivory, tan, brown, dark blue, etc. If you wear a garment in one of these colors, you can pair it with any other color, print or pattern. You can also draw inspiration from street fashion and online bloggers to master the art of print mixing. With a bit of clever styling Ankara can work for anyone and really give your current wardrobe a modern update.

4- Look in the mirror and use your best judgement. Sometimes things look like they would go well together separately, but once you put them all on, it’s a whole different story. If it looks like you’re trying too hard and everything clashes, then maybe those prints are not compatible. Floral on floral is typically my least favorite print mixing combo. I try to stick with floral and stripes, or dots and floral. I also love dots and stripes and everything in between. I don’t do large prints with other large prints either. I keep small prints together, or mix large with small.

5- Have fun! Don’t be afraid to mix your Ankara prints with modern or retro prints. It’s not the clothes who makes the woman, but the woman who makes the clothes. And don’t forget, comfort is key.

So now we look at the many variations in wearing these beautiful African prints

African print dresses: The option with dresses are endless as long as you can find a tailor, you can sew a dress with African fabric in every style imaginable.

ankara day dressesankara maxi dresses

African print skirts: you can pair a flared, mini, skater, midi or maxi skirt in an African print with a solid tee or button down shirt and you have got yourself a perfect brunch, church or date outfit.

ankara short skirts

ankara maxi skirts

African pants and suits: They range from short shorts to straight and palazzo pants to glamorous pantsuits’

ankara pants and pantsuits

African print jumpsuits:  or Rompers coordinates and such can turn all the way up with one or two coordinating pieces for a stellar pant, skirt or short suit.

ankara jumpsuits

African print tops: think crop tops, peplum tops, boxy cuts and even blazers! Just wear with a black pencil skirt or your favorite pair of boyfriend jeans for a quick evening outfit.

ankara tops and blousesankara bustiers

Swimsuits:  They look good as either a one-piece or a two-piece suit

ankara swimsuits

And a video of comtempory Ankara styles

Wear big and bold accessories

Try it: “You can add some personality to your look by accessorising with some statement jewels. But remember, one statement item gives an outfit polish, lots make it look unsophisticated. If you’re hesistant to wear African print all over, incorporate the style into your accessories, with hats, bags, head wraps, shoes and jewelry fit for a queen.


ankara shoes and boots and purse

The Handbag

Ankara african bags


Earrings and Neck Pieces


ankara earrings and neck piecesScarves

ankara scarves

These are just samplings on what is available. Check our Pinterest page on African Styles for an even greater overview.

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Category: Style, Transgender Fashion, Transgender Opinion


About the Author ()

Tasi was a transgender, married, lifelong crossdresser. She passed away in late 2018. She’s the founder of the Ladies of the Blue Ridge transgender group in Roanoke VA, a prolific writer, commentator and blogger including fashion articles for Tri-Ess, TG Reporter, Repartee, and Pretty T-Girls magazine. Tasi currently resides in Merida, (Yucatan) Mexico. Her new website, Sister House and her blog, the Fashionable TG Woman are dedicated to fashion and style for the transgendered woman. Tasi’s book, "Top Ten Fashion Mistakes By Crossdressers and How To Fix Them" is available on Amazon or on her site free to subscribers.

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