Home Away from Home with Abi Adeboyejo
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The African dress sense is acknowledged and admired worldwide. Our ‘costumes’ as they are called are very colourful, vibrant and elegant. It is with pride that we parade this part of our culture on every occasion. The rebirth of the use of African wax to make the most elegant of female apparel is very gladdening. In the last few summers, many high street shops have stocked beautiful summer dresses and skirts made with African print fabrics. The only problem is that they cost an arm and a leg. Why will I buy a skirt for £40 when I can get my cousin to buy the fabric and sew a replica from Lagos at a fraction of the price (including tips for the tailor’s apprentices)?
I attended a wedding a few weeks ago in Birmingham. As usual, everyone looked fantastic, yours truly included (even if I say so myself!). It was a Nigerian wedding and the food and music was good. The guests were mostly attired in different traditional outfits with the thoroughly strange combinations of ladies tights peeping out under wrappers (iro) and the odd turtleneck sweater under the blouse (buba). The weather hadn’t turned quite as warm as it is now and it was a wet and dreary day, but who cared? The first part of the reception ceremony was lovely, without any unusual occurrences. It was all going swimmingly until the dancing started.
Before I explain the scenes on the dance floor I’d like to get you to imagine the lady in question. Imagine a 5ft tall lady who would probably wear between a size 22 to size 26 British dress size. If you’ve watched Eddie Murphy’s film Norbit, think of his wife ‘Razputia’. If you’ve watched an older film Mrs Doubtfire think of Mrs Doubtfire x 3. If you have no idea what I am trying to say, just imagine a short but very large lady with love handles, spare tyres and excess bags in the right and wrong places.
Now this lady had a very pretty face. Her face was made up to perfection, thanks to all the wedding make-up artistes who have brought stage makeup down to everyone’s level. Her dress sense, however, was disastrous. She either did not have a mirror or broke the mirror with her ample proportions as she tried to stand in front of it. She had somehow managed to pour herself into a very tight shimmering silver halter neck dress (otherwise known as ‘show me your back’).
This lady had her back to the rest of the guests as she proceeded to dance on the pace cleared for dancing. To my dismay (and the obvious delight of the men folk) one could actually see every contour and bulge encased by this ridiculous outfit. The live band must have seen the opportunity to entertain the guests because all of a sudden, the music became very fast and Miss ‘Show me your back’ decided to wriggle in time to the music. Her backside moved as if it had a life of its own. It moved and could be moved. We all watched in awe of this live attachment to this lady’s physic and I found myself holding my breath, wondering if the dress would stand the onslaught of the dancing or would break at the seams. It was fantastic. It was also incredibly obscene.
Miss ‘Show me your back’ started to perspire. Big maps of (surely smelly) sweat began to appear around her armpits and down her back. It seemed a pool had formed at the base of her spine but I couldn’t be sure. I felt like going to drag her off the dance floor or at least offer her a handkerchief to wipe the perspiration but the souvenirs were about to be distributed and I had my eyes on the plastic buckets. You hardly find buckets and such at Tesco and other stores. Collecting them at parties is always a good option. Miss ‘Show me your back’ was quite a dancer. As the music reached its crescendo she suddenly crouched very low to the floor and slowly wriggled her way back up again while her backside seemed to move in various directions at the same time.
I continued to watch this spectacle with a mixture of fascination, awe and disgust. She was soon besieged by ‘agbada’ flinging men who began to shower her with dollar notes, thus depriving me of a perfect view. My friend, Modele, who had been sitting on a table away from me came to sit beside me and started laughing. When I asked her what was so funny she remarked that she had been watching my expression for the last 15 minutes or so and saw how fascinated I was with the dancing lady. I joined in her laughter, but quickly asked what dressing like that was in aid of.
“Husbands!” she said very simply.
“Ours, hers or somebody else’s?” I asked in disbelief.
“Oh, these girls are usually not very fussy” she said again, as if this piece of information was a matter of fact.
She went on to explain that a lot of young marriageable girls had taken to dressing up in eye-catching outfits to weddings to attract possible suitors. While this was not news to me, I couldn’t understand when looking like an overfed titus/mackrel fish was the new way to look ‘hot’. We argued about what amounted to decent dressing and she ended up branding my views as too conservative.
I do believe in flaunting what you’ve got. Perfect makeup, lovely hair, nicely done nails and clean-shaven armpits reeking of sweet, sexy perfume should all enhance the lovely outfit which should naturally turn any man’s head. The female African physic differs as you travel from the north to the south but in Nigeria I think it is safe to say that our women are usually well endowed with curvaceous and buxomly figures. Our traditional attires, which are usually free flowing, give an aura of elegance to the wearer while the wax prints that are used in creating the fantastic skirts and blouses we now wear encase and showcase our best bits without causing offence or cheapening the wearers.
There is absolutely nothing wrong in trying and wearing different styles and cuts of clothes. To experiment with different looks, fabrics and colours is a skill most trendy women possess. The problem is that we sometimes ignore the way we are made and copy other people’s styles of dress with disastrous consequences, as in the case of Miss ‘Show me your back’. European women for example have broader waists and hips (and sometimes insignificant busts, compared to Nigerian women) and this allows even the very large ladies to wear clinging and low cut clothes without looking obscene.
And while we are on the subject of looking good to attract a husband at other people’s weddings, I doubt that anyone looked at Miss ‘Show me your back’ and thought ‘Wow, that’s my future wife dancing there!’ The fun factor, the cheap factor and the easy girl factor were all present but what about the ‘African Queen factor’?