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May 12, 2010

Ayoba to aowa: what (and what not) to wear in South Africa

african beads

Photo courtesy mickeymox

Africa is a continent steeped in tradition and South Africa is a veritable melting pot of customs, beliefs and, of course, fashion. If you’re visiting this country or continent for the first time, as a football fan coming to watch your team compete in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, prepare to be bombarded by culture and inundated with extremes.

You might feel you want to take a bit of Africa home with you when you leave, or at least blend in while you’re here, but there’s a thin line between ayoba (local slang for delight, excitement, agreement or approval) and aowa (the Sepedi word for “no”) in South African fashion! So be careful about which local style trends you adopt…

Ayoba accessories

When it comes to fashion, South Africa is all about bright and vibrant colour – it’s no wonder we’re called the rainbow nation! We wear our flag and its colours proudly, so be sure to pick up a badge, cap, T-shirt, or even a pair of shoes emblazoned with our beloved red, blue, green, black, gold and white.

Beadwork is one of this country’s strongest traditions. Decorative local beadwork is colourful, patterned and beautifully made. You can find anything from broaches and necklaces to handbags and shoes – just be sure to check the quality and origin of whatever you buy.

Having your hair braided is very ayoba – no matter the length, colour or texture. It can be a long and sometimes uncomfortable process though, so be prepared and patient! Most braids can be easily undone.

Handmade leather bags are another South African must – and you don’t have to stick to the bovine variety! Snake skin, crocodile skin and even ostrich skin leather handbags, wallets, belts and shoes are widely available and highly sought-after.

Football accessories are an absolute must over the World Cup period; so don’t forget to find yourself a vuvuzela or kuduzela. These noisemakers are a statement in the stands and outside the stadiums and come in a range of colours and designs. Even beaded vuvuzelas are on sale in some places! The makarapa hat is another football trend well worth investing in – these ornate and sometimes off-the-wall helmets are the perfect way in which to proclaim your support for a particular team and make a style statement at the same time! If you really want to fit in inside the stadiums, find yourself a pair of giant plastic spectacles. While you might be laughed at anywhere else in the world for donning these odd creations, the comical accessories will ensure that you feel part of the crowd in no time.

Traditional clothing is also very popular in South Africa, whether or not you are part of the ethnic group they belong to. Bright, bold prints can be found on dresses, skirts, hats and shirts, but do be careful not to overdo it! The slightly more reserved, silk shirts made famous by former president, Nelson Mandela, are also extremely popular and easy to find around South Africa.

Aowa, don’t do these

As a whole, South Africa has a diverse and tolerant population, but there are some things we just don’t like seeing on the catwalks or the streets! The country is a popular destination for international tourists after the safari experience, but you’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you wear khaki from head to toe.

Two-tone clothing is also not a popular choice among most locals, so think twice before getting an olive green and light brown combination suit. Long socks may be useful in the bush to ward off insects, but within city limits they’re just not ayoba! Their perennial companion, the so-called veldskoene (an Afrikaans word meaning “field shoes”) are also a leathery vestige of the past we’d rather not see on the streets today.

Anything bearing the old South African flag is definitely an aowa idea, for obvious reasons. The country has come a long way since apartheid, but citizens are still understandably sensitive about such stark reminders of the past.

Africa is automatically associated with animal skins and prints, but we certainly don’t choose to cover ourselves in them from head to toe. A subtle animal print-inspired garment is far preferable to a gaudy, loud zebra pattern, or leopard print. If you are keen to get hold of an authentic animal skin, always check where and how the creature was killed. Poaching is still a problem in parts of South Africa. As a result, almost anything made of ivory is definitely not ayoba – and, in fact, could be downright illegal.

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