African-inspired prints bring Western silhouettes to life

African print shirtwaist dress by Oboma, 85 and a purple peplum dress by Yetunde Sarumi, $130, modeled by CBS-3 anchor, Anne-Marie Green

On any given day, a waist-defining skirt in a polka dot or floral print is a cute option.

The trendlet

Sheaths, peplum frocks, cold-shoulder blouses, and wide-legged trousers made from West African fabrics are giving the centuries-old textile techniques quite a modern flavor.

Where does it come from?

Mudcloth and weaves made from narrow strips of fabric - such as kente cloth - are indigenous to ancient Africa.

In the mid-1800s, the Dutch brought to Africa the batik technique, an Indonesian fabric-making process that came to be called ankara. Bold ankara prints and woven textiles are the basis for what we today consider African-inspired fabrics.

Through the mid-20th century, all of these textiles were used to make traditional African garb, from iros (wraparound skirts) to geles (head wraps).

In the 1960s, the dashiki - a traditional West African men's shirt - became an African American fashion statement for black power. The prints became more common here.

During the 1990s, hip-hop artists like Queen Latifah performed in baggy pants and matching shirts made from ankara and mudcloth. The pieces also were available in bulk at then-emerging African street fairs like Philadelphia's Odunde Festival that were on their way to becoming annual summer events.

Within the last 10 years, African fashion weeks have helped young designers introduce their modern aesthetic to fashionistas with street-fashion blogs. The websites Etsy and Pinterest bubble with pages devoted to West African looks, too - especially the very fashionable Nigerian weddings.

In 2015, East Orange, N.J., teenager Kyemah McEntyre's kente cloth prom gown made major fashion headlines when celebs from Nicki Minaj to Sanaa Lathan tweeted the dress to their millions of followers. A new generation of fashionistas was hooked.

Who is wearing it?

Promgoers, Democratic National Convention delegates, and fashionable celebrities like Solange Knowles, Taraji P. Henson, Rihanna, Gwen Stefani, and Jill Biden, whose sky-blue ankara dress is on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through January.

Would Elizabeth wear it?

I'm in the market for a bold-print A-line skirt that I want to pair with a chambray blouse that ties at the neck.

Should you wear it?

All of us should be able to find an African-inspired print in a skirt, pair of trousers, or dress that suits our body type. (And you need not be black to do it.)

Model: CBS News anchor Anne-Marie Green.

Shirtwaist dress, Oboma, $85; purple peplum dress, Yetunde Sarumi, $130; red halter, Ofuure by Tehilah, $95. All dresses pictured are available at the on-line retailer, Zuvaa.

ewellington@phillynews.com

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@ewellingtonphl