Shweshwe is a printed and dyed cotton fabric and is very popular in South Africa. Dresses made by this fabric have been worn timelessly by women throughout Africa. However, shweshwe dresses are making their mark in the fashion industry throughout the world. These dresses are characterized by their intricate designs and geometric patterns.
Shweshwe has been traditionally used to make dresses, aprons, skirts and wrap around and was traditionally worn by married Xhosa women. Shweshwe is an avant-grade couture attire that is taking the fashion industry by a storm throughout the world. It is a versatile fabric and a lot of experimentation can be done with it. Initially, shweshwe was available only in indigo, chocolate brown and red but now a whole range of colours are available.
We have seen celebrities grace the red carpet in this fabric. A whole range of outfits have been crafted from this fabric ranging from something conservative religious wear to formal office wear and casual sun dresses or evening wear. Recent fashion designers are also designing swim suits with the shweshwe fabric. Shweshwe fabric is being used extensively in dresses, coats, shoes, skirts and so on. It can be worn at a formal, semi-formal or even a festive occasion.
Shweshwe fabric has been used by men and women of all ethnic groups for making accessories and upholstery. It is also used by women in the United States as a quilting fabric. This fabric is made on pure calico cotton and is printed in widths of 90 cm side by side. This fabric was rarely used as it was complex and expensive to make but that has been rectified by modern printing methods and techniques.
Cheap quality imitations of this fabric are being made both locally as well imported from India and China. The original fabric can be identified by its feel, smell, taste, etc. and by the dyeing company logo on the reverse side of the fabric. The stiffness of the fabric that is starched by traditional methods is removed after one wash. The dresses made from shweshwe fabric have been managing to get rid of the African stereotypes and making way for traditional attire in the international market.
These dresses tell the story of the traditions and culture of the African heritage and with the broadening horizons and worldwide exposure is a metaphorical representation of how far they have come from their oppressed days.