Namibian Fashion Spools Out a Whole World of Meaning


To many Americans, fashion is a frivolous distraction. To many women in Namibia, it’s an expression of identity hammered out of years of tradition, culture, colonialism, and genocide.

Catherine E. McKinley writes about it in fascinating detail for the Virginia Quarterly Review, with incredible photos by Thabiso Sekgala to match. It’s hard to pick just one passage to quote, but this is a pretty good one:

Western dress lacks the sculptural aspects created with every pull of thread. And it often lacks sensuality, when the body is so out front. In Herero dress, as with the Ghanaian kaba and slit and other contemporary West African dress, there is an emphasis on construction; the sensuality is powerfully present below.

Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →