Dashiki is a loose sweater tunic associated with both African culture and the US counter-culture of the 1960s. Dashiki are usually made of cotton or cotton blends and have a deep V-neckline that is often embellished with embossed or embroidery designs.
The traditional West African dashiki has short sleeves. The three-quarter long sleeve variant often repeats the neckline decoration on the cuffs. Many Dashiki have two square patch pockets on the bottom front of the garment.
Dashiki can be used for formal or informal events. Special occasions call for better décor and fabric classification and may include wearing a robe over shirts and pants for a sleek look.
Although the dashiki style is often worn by men, it is adopted by women and appears in medium ankle or calf length dresses, which make a lovely outfit for housewives and beach wear. A dashiki-style dress that is graceful and simple offers comfort and appeal. Loose and cool in hot weather, a dashiki or dashiki dress can be paired with trousers or worn over a turtleneck shirt in cooler weather.
Dashiki in America in the 1960s
In the United States the term "dashiki" entered American English circa 1968 (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 2000). Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the popularity of Afrocentric clothing grew along with pride in racial and cultural heritage among Americans of African descent.
First worn as an indicator of black unity and pride, the dashiki peaked in popularity when white counterculture hippies, who "set the tone for much of the fashion of the late sixties" (Connikie, p. 22), included the colorful shirts and dresses in their wardrobes.
The aesthetics of mainstream male fashion shifted toward the ethnic, men began to "emulate the peacock," and the dashiki became trendy by the end of the 1960s. Worn by increasing numbers of young white Americans attracted to the bright colors and ornate embroidery, the dashiki lost much of its black political identity and epitomized the larger scene of changing American society.
By the late 1960s, American retailers imported cheap dashikis manufactured in India, Bangladesh, and Thailand. Most of these loose-fitting shirts and caftans were sewn from cotton "kanga" prints, a bordered rectangle printed with symmetrical bold colorful designs, often with central motifs.
Kanga prints were introduced in the nineteenth century by Indian and Portuguese traders to East Africa, where in the early twenty-first century women still wore them as wrappers (Hilger, p. 44). Contemporary kanga, manufactured in Kenya and Tanzania, was discovered by African American fashion designers in the 1960s (Neves 1966) and was ideal for the simply tailored dashikis.
One kanga-patterned dashiki with chevron, geometric, and floral motifs became a "classic" and was still manufactured in the twenty-first century.
Dashiki in American fashion today
In the early days of the twenty-first century, the dashiki has retained meaning for the African American community and a historical marker of the 1960s counterculture. While seldom seen as street wear, the dashiki is worn at festive occasions such as Kwanzaa, the annual celebration to mark the unity of Americans of African descent and express pride in African heritage (Goss and Goss). A 2003 Internet search called up over 5,000 entries for "dashiki," largely from marketers who offer a range of vintage or contemporary African clothing.
Vintage clothing retailers market dashikis as "a must for all hippie freaks" and for "wanna-be hippies." Costume companies offer "the dashiki boy" with a classic dashiki shirt, Afro wig, dark glasses, and a peace pendant necklace.
Purveyors of African clothing have expanded the meaning of dashiki beyond the distinctive shirt to include a variety of African robe ensembles and caftan styles. The dashiki's popularity as a street style has faded, but it continues as an integral part of the African American fashion scene for festive occasions and as a form of dress evocative of the lifestyle of 1960s America.
From Amandla Stenberg, to Beyonce Chris Brown, Drake, French Montana, Jhené Aiko, Rihanna, Wale and Zendaya, it seemed that almost everyone was making a fashion statement with the dashiki.
The casual comfort of a dashiki makes it an excellent choice for beach wear, casual settings, and around the home. A dashiki looks great at any age, for men or women, and for all body types.
Kulturalvibez is a major distributor of Dashiki dresses and other accessories.