Clothing styles change over time for a variety of reasons. Although environmental changes can have drastic effects, trade causes the quickest shifts in a culture's clothing styles. Trade between the hundreds of different African groups throughout the continent had occured for years but the most dramatic effect of trade came from the West. Western style clothing, including shoes, pants, shirts, dresses, and business suits, became increasingly common in Africa in the twentieth century, especially in urban cities. Many Africans wear whole Western style outfits, while others combine traditional African styles with Western styles. Only Africans living in the most remote regions of the continent continue to wear clothes reflecting limited European contact.

The prevalence of Western styles throughout Africa indicates the dominance of European trade on the continent since the fifteenth century. The first Africans to trade with Europeans used European goods to create their own unique clothing styles. Intricate beaded clothing was created from imported glass beads, for example. But as Europeans tried to colonize the African continent, many Africans were forced to abandon their traditional ways of living. Without access to their old ways of making clothing, many began to wear ready-made clothes imported from Europe. Indeed, by the twenty-first century, Africans not only wore imported Western style clothing but also Western style clothing made in African factories. Today traditional African dress is most often worn for ceremonial purposes, much like the kimono in Japan or elements of traditional dress among Native Americans.

Masai natives display their T-shirts, showing new Western influence on African style. Reproduced by permission of © .

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