It is very hard to walk along the streets of Ghana on Sundays and not see male churchgoers rocking different styles and colours of kaftans busily going to church. Kaftan for men in Ghana have become such a staple in the men’s fashion space that there currently isn’t any tailor who does not make them. 

Let’s take a look at what are kaftans and why are many Ghanaians embracing this fashion trend. 

What are kaftans?

Neither is it hard to spot wedding and birthday party guests rocking pure white kaftans nor businessmen wearing kaftans to work on a busy weekday. The word Kaftan has over the years been used to describe loose-fitting attire which is a variant of a robe. 

It used to be worn as an overall. It was primarily worn by royalty as a symbol of their status in ancient Mesopotamia – at least that is what recorded history tells us for thousands of years. This clothing style found its way to other cultures particularly by trade, wars and marriage alliances. This led to it being modified to suit different stylistic tastes, climates, and occasions.

Historic background of kaftans

A portrait of a sultan in his Kaftan.

Some of the tribes and ethnic groups in the Northern regions of Ghana had for a very long time been wearing a kind of kaftan. This was usually popular among the cultures that predominantly practiced Islam since many of the overalls traditionally worn are actually kaftans. 

After Ghana gained Independence and a new constitution, the popularity of local prints continued to decline as globalization and the tools of western civilization became so rampant that the market for local prints shrunk to record low levels.

The then President, John Agyekum Kuffour in 2004 declared a policy which encouraged all Ghanaians, if possible, to put on local garments every Friday. The President wanted to project a distinctive Ghanaian identity through the use of local fabric and locally inspired designs. 

How did kaftans became an item in men’s fashion

This took off with a bang. It was a hit. Many people liked the policy and decided to give it a try. Many governmental, private companies and non-governmental offices had clothes designed for them which they proudly wore on Fridays. 

The trend also caught up with many basic and high schools who also decided to jump on the trend and obey the President’s directive. In the streets on Fridays, it was a common sight to see workers and students alike in their Friday and semi formal wear. This for some time increased the sales of Ghanaian designed textiles. 

This trend, although welcome in its early stages, was not continued by the academic front. Slowly, the number of students who wore “Friday wear” as the trend had been named dwindled. 

On the corporate front however, even though the number of businesses that were using the Friday wear dwindled, many companies still stood with the policy and encouraged their workers to wear smart casual, semi formal as well as company branded clothing. This still goes on till today. It is very evident in the banks and insurance companies. 

The “Friday wear” being showcased by employees of an Insurance Company.

When the kaftan was embraced worldwide by celebrities

The years from 2012 to 2016 saw the rise, peak and decline of the “Dashiki” – one popular casual kaftan in Africa and the diaspora that was created in the 1960s. Many celebrities wore it including Beyonce, Chris Brown, Drake and many others and this really shot the attire to its resurgence and many people of Black ancestry wore it because its patterns looked very African. 

In Ghana, the trend really caught up with the youthful population and many people adorned themselves with various patterns and colours of the Dashiki. After 2016, the trend started tapering and the popularity and sales of the Dashiki waned until it became almost impossible to see someone clad in Dashiki.

Afterwards, a new fashion trend started where the more affluent people began to wear all white to birthdays, wedding anniversaries and other parties. With bloggers and local media houses covering these events and putting them on social media, many also began to model their events after these and in no time, tailors were being inundated with requests to sew white kaftans. 

Others also made some in different colours and they exploded onto the fashion scene. This new wave of kaftans usually featured bottomless shirts which are usually of plain colour; the shirt and trousers are usually made of the same material and colour. 

While most of them have a zipper usually on the left shoulder (because most people are right-handed), others also feature very few bottoms. One distinctive feature of these kaftans is that they are not made with any collars and they are not tucked into the trousers. There are long sleeved and short sleeved variants. Even though there are Kaftans for both men and women, this trend is seen more in the male fashion sector.

Other reasons for the popularity of kaftan for men in Ghana

Kaftan with sneakers.

Kaftans have become so popular in Ghana due to several reasons. Africans, Asians and Eastern Europeans have long been known to wear kaftans of a sort over the years. The Arabs wear them to this day and this has special religious significance to them. 

Muslims in Ghana have always worn beautiful coloured kaftans. Kaftans are usually very versatile and can be styled in a variety of ways making them highly adaptable for all kinds of situations. 

They are mostly worn with formal shoes for more formal occasions, with sandals and half-shoes for semi-formal occasions and some youths wear them with sneakers usually for informal and some semi-formal occasions. 

It is very evident that kaftans are very comfortable to wear because they loosely fit the body and provide some airflow thereby keeping the wearer cool. This is very important since Ghana tends to get very warm.

How to get a custom made kaftan in Ghana

It is not difficult to find a tailor in Ghana. They make many of the traditional clothing as well as other clothes like school uniforms, work uniforms, suits and anything that a customer will ask them to do. 

They are also part of the reasons that Kaftans have taken over because it is easy and inexpensive to find a tailor to make a beautiful kaftan for you. Some tailors also pre-make some kaftans and sell them using online means. Facebook Marketplace, Instagram and even Tiktok are some of their means of sales. Many different kinds of fabrics have found use for making kaftans the most dominant are cotton and silk.

One of the chief reasons why Kaftans have become popular in Ghana is that they have become culturally significant. Many consider them as “African wear” and wear them to show their African heritage because they are considered as modern variants of traditional dressing. By wearing Kaftans, Ghanaians portray their heritage and connect with their roots. 

It is interesting to note that the kaftan has stood the test of time, undergone several fashion changes and preferences and still retained its essence and identity. This goes ahead to show that Kaftans are not just clothes; they are big expressions of history, culture and personality. It will be very interesting to observe how the popularity of kaftans will continue to evolve. 

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