This aso ebi business

Home Away from Home with Abi Adeboyejo

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HAFH2I have spent quite a few hours in the last few months drooling over some of the outstandingly beautiful native attire on Bella Naija blog. I have also shivered in disgust at some outfits where you feel like helping the wearer to hold up the dress from falling off and revealing the obviously imprisoned breasts. Honestly, sometimes too much of a good thing is very bad.

I have been looking at the dresses because I have two parties to attend this summer and I have paid a fortune to buy the required aso ebi. I am looking for decent styles that will not be out of fashion by next year, seeing as I am spending so much on the outfit now. And the fear of the outfit being outdated in a short while is a very real one for those of us living in the UK. I do not frequent the Niaja party scene in London in particular, as I am but a normal Nigerian wife and mum doing regular things with the kids at weekends, like talking them to the library, football practice, chess club, crocheting and knitting classes and church club outings. When the parties happen, and they are usually in the summer months, one has to hope that the outfit you’ve chosen to wear is still in fashion, as it might have moved on since you last wore it in May the year before.
To be honest, I have a problem with buying aso ebi. You spend so much buying the fabric, usually from £70 to £150 if it is lace material, then you have to spend between £30 to £70 to have it sewn by a tailor. And imagine your pain if the fabric is badly sewn by a ‘pretend’ tailor who is actually only good for iro and buba but claims they can sew a dress with a flared bottom and a canoe neck? It happened to me once. The dress, thankfully made from ankara material, was so badly sewn that I couldn’t wear it to the said party. I had to wear another outfit and felt like the poor relative at the party who couldn’t afford the £30 ankara. Imagine! My only consolation was that the fabric itself was terrible. At the end of the party one of my friends found that the fabric had run and stained her underwear because of sweat from her armpits.
So aso ebi costs a lot, in fact, too much for the majority of Nigerian ladies living in the UK. I will say it, even if others pretend that it doesn’t. It is unrealistic to spend up to £220 for an outfit, minus accessories like shoes, bag and the now requisite beads. (or are beads out already? I hope not. I’ve just ordered some o!) . If one has to buy such an outfit once a year for a very important occasion like a wedding of a close family member, then perhaps it is understandable and one can justify the expense. But I know people who by several of such outfits throughout the year for every kind of party: a 10th birthday, a graduation party (from Nursing school at age 53!), 12th wedding anniversary party, 6th anniversary of getting a British passport (yes, it is true. I saw it on facebook) and other frivolous events.
It also pains me to say that the women who are hooked on buying these expensive outfits are the ones who do menial or low-paying jobs. Some work three jobs a week and still earn about £1000 a month. By the time they pay rent of £650 or more, pay council tax and other bills, buy groceries and fuel the car, their account is in the red and they are living on bank overdraft until the next payday. These same women will then spend at least £100 on fabric that they will only wear once. They will then end up with several boxes under their bed filled with these outfits, while they max out their credit cards and any other form of credit they can lay their hands on, just to wear aso ebi to a party.
But I understand why we all buy aso ebi. No one wants to be the odd one out. And women talk. If you are seen not to buy aso ebi to all occasions, you might find that people might start talking about your financial situation. This can become a big issue if women belong to the same clubs or groups and the arguments and snide remarks are sometimes too much to bear.
I have a couple of suggestions. Firstly, if people choose to have parties and want their guests to wear the same outfit, they should be prepared to give their guests the fabric for free. I’ve seen people do it. A friend gave all her female guests head ties in one colour and we all wore our own outfits in different colours to match the headtie. It was very grand party, held in a posh hotel with a live band and all the works. Many of the guests were able to buy the celebrant very lovely and expensive presents because they hadn’t wasted money on over-priced aso ebi.
Secondly, ladies can go back to the practice of wearing outfits made of the same fabric as their husbands, thus removing the awkwardness that may occur from being the only one without aso ebi. I know some men will not be caught wearing some of the fabric ladies wear, but perhaps women can be creative and do everything possible to co-ordinate their outfits to match their husbands’. This also has the added advantage of labelling the gorgeous man as yours only and discouraging other women from having ‘designs’ on him.
I think that if more and more ladies start to refuse to buy aso ebi, we can actually bring about this turn around, at least in the UK. I’ve heard it said that celebrants usually insist on aso ebi because they make a lot of money from the sale of the fabrics and this in turn goes to fund the party. Seriously, if you can’t afford to have a party without cheating your guests to pay for it themselves, then don’t have a party. Period. This craze of having parties for any flimsy reason will soon get to a point where people will be asked to bring their own food to the party, or is that already happening? I don’t know!