My thoughts being plunked into a new world…
White sneaks, black boots, muted colours—a few of my favourite things and closet staples—could not be more opposite than the regular streetwear or business attire in Nairobi or most of East Africa. Here, unorthodox, unmuted colour combinations of any abstract pattern are donned with confidence. I find the Kenyan kitenge beautiful, both the men’s and women’s, the textures and unconventional designs in detailed tailoring to their body type. Even the elaborate accessories don’t seem to match yet seem altogether beautiful. In which I would attribute to my adoration of its uniqueness—of how much it differs to my mainstream usual—as well as my appreciation of how proudly they wear these outfits and express their culture, traditions and history.
Now, you must know, the kitenge that I think are oh-so-lovely, are not commonly worn on the daily, however the unorthodox, unmuted colour and abstract patterns continue and not just in fashion, but in an entirely different way than culturally and traditionally rich African outfits —in a way that exposes my personal style and limited view of beauty.
Initially, I walk into my office and see what seems to be fifty shades of blue—the company branding across the office is a chosen four shades of blue, the doors and trim another, the windows another, the bulletin board another, the curtains yet another and then the walls an off-pee shade of yellow and I think, jeepers why can’t it all just be white.
I see the boda-bodas (this is my favourite) and I notice the bright orange helmet and high-vis vests, I think this isn’t crazy, this is practical and for safety, this is great.I notice the red, yellow and green painted body of the bike with “GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME” written across it, and think hm, interesting. I see the male driver with a purple flower-covered scarf wrapped around his neck and a lime green-trimmed pink umbrella somehow attached to the bike as a make-shift shelter, and I think this is super cute, this guy likes girly colours.
I see the royal purple sweatpants paired with a bright baby blue t-shirt that has a massive Hollister logo slapped across the front and bulky black running shoes with mismatched ankle socks and I think, what in the world are you wearing.
I see the ill-fitted dark blue flare jeans, a camo fleece with a neon pink trim and a green polo collar peeking out at the neckline and I think, what in the world are you wearing.
Then I see a European young woman wearing dark heather-grey trousers, a white knit sweater and neutral trainers on her feet and I think, mm yes girl.
I think, perhaps in Africa, people wear whatever is convenient for them; perhaps they do not care about style or fashion all that much—which could be true, I don’t know—and then I think, eek, what an assumption I am making out of a culturally embedded notion that African’s must do most things out of necessity and survival rather than out of joy or fun or creative expression of who they are.