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Uganda@54: The era of Amin Nvako in fashion

By Jacquiline Emodek

Added 8th October 2016 10:03 PM

In the early 60's women in Uganda still stuck to the traditional wear

In the early 60's women in Uganda still stuck to the traditional wear

Renowned fashion designer Yves Saint Lauren once said Dressing is a way of life. It is an aspect of fashion which is a popular trend especially in styles of dress and ornament or manners of behavior.

The 60s have been termed as the decade of fashion rebellion; it was the time when there was a shift from the long conservative dresses to the rising hemlines famously known as miniskirts and the shift dresses.

Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of US President John F. Kennedy, became widely known for her beauty, grace and elegant style of dress. Her many public appearances popularised pearl necklaces, the pillbox hat (a small hat with a flat top and straight sides) and simple, big-buttoned suits.

The fashion icons were British teenage supermodel Leslie Hornby also known as Twiggy and famous actress Audrey Hepburn whose signature attires comprised flat shoes, three-quarter pants and plain black shift dresses.

In Uganda Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of Toro kingdom was the ultimate fashion icon having been the first African woman to appear on the cover of Harper's Bazaar and the also the first to have been given a spread in the fashion bible- Vogue.

However in the early 60's women in Uganda still stuck to the traditional wear (Gomesi) while others embraces the British conservative styles.

Perpetua Amuge Odeke who was 21 years old in 1960 and living in Soroti district recalls that Uganda women wore Gomesis, Kitenge, long dresses which were later termed as Amin Nvako, a term coined after the former president Idi Amin banned women from wearing miniskirts.

"We also wore bed sheets, which were cut according to someone's size and we did not own shoes because they were expensive," she says.

 However, Amuge says that they wore wooden shoes known as scools for the bathroom.

Women also adopted suites, hats and body stockings.

Round skirts also known as the 'twist and tight' were a hit especially for the ballroom dances.

"You would rotate and the skirts would also go round with you as you danced," Amuge reminisces.

When it came to the hair styles, the afros reigned supreme among both men and women. However some women plaited cornrows known as Kiswahili and bututwa. During this time the straight hair syndrome was beginning to take its toll and so Amuge says that ladies resorted to using pieces of heated broken pot and iron sheets to straighten their hair after applying oil to it.

 "We would put holes in the iron sheet for the ash and the person doing it had to be conscious not to burn the client. She also had to ensure that she removed the ash," Amuge explains.

Accessories like bags, jewelry and scarfs compliment outfits. During independence the women's handbags in Uganda were made out of palm leaves and sisal.

 "The makers were very artistic, I tell you," Amuge boasts.

Jewelry was a specialty of the Asian women and the most popular piece was a spiral bangle that went round and round over a woman's hand.

"It was known as ikomo in ateso and kikomo in Luganda," Amuge says.

When it came down to the shoes, women teetered on closed platform shoes popularly known as the Gabon.

When it came to men's fashion, Kavuma Kaggwa a veteran journalist explains that after 70 years under British rule most of the country's way of life was hinged on their characteristics.

He says that during and after independence, Uganda's first president Kabaka Mutesa I of Buganda was the fashion icon for the males.

"One day in 1958 he attended a football match in Katwe wearing a tweed coat and it immediately became popular among young men," Kaggwa recalls.

The tweed jacket is a rough woolen fabric of a soft open, flexible texture closely woven usually with a plain weave, twill or herringbone structure. Tweeds are an icon of the traditional Irish and British country clothing usually worn as informal outerwear because their material was moisture -resistant and durable. Although it was thing of the 19th century the tweed is made a comeback in 2015.

Mutesa also made the double breast jacket a favorite when he wore one adorned with golden buttons to church.

"I really do not recall which church it was but it was either Rubaga Cathedral or Namirembe Cathedral but all I know is the men immediately wanted to own double breasted jackets after seeing the Kabaka," Kaggwa says

Atleast every man ensured that they owned two suits and the art of wearing one dictated that the man wore matching shoes.

"If you wore a black suit, you had to wear black shoes and if the suit was brown you had to wear brown shoes," Kaggwa notes.

It is impossible to talk about suits in the 1960s and not acknowledge the Kaunda suit which became a favourite of Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere and many Ugandan men.

Originally called the safari suit with its roots in India, the quadri-pocket short-sleeved jacket subsequently became known as the Kaunda suit a trademark of Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda.

The suit also drew heavy influence from the tailored style of China's Mao Zedong.

"Nyerere first saw the suit on Kaunda during a delegates conferences he attended wearing an English suit; he admired it and choose to make it his signature outfit," Kaggwa explains.

In Uganda the Kaunda suit was preferred in navy blue, cream and beige.

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