Dashiki as American Fashion

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.

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