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African Mud Cloth Fashion: a Hot Style Trend

African mud cloth, formally known as bogolanfini, has long been a part of fashion in Africa. Thanks to Malian fashion designer Chris Seydou, it has become a huge trend in fashion around the world in recent years. If you’re looking to update your wardrobe and be truly fashionable, you might want to consider adding some African mud cloth to your wardrobe.

The History of African Mud Cloth
Bogolanfini, more commonly referred to as African mud cloth, is a Malian tradition that dates back to the 12th century. The Malian tribe of West Africa used fermented mud to decorate handmade textiles. The mud was placed on the fabric to create culturally significant images, such as mythology, historical events and even animals that were important to the tribe. After the designs were painted onto the fabric, it would be washed off and the images would be dyed onto the fabric.

African mud cloth was primarily worn by Malian hunters, serving as camouflage and a status symbol for these important members of the tribe. Women would also wear the cloth when they were making the transition into womanhood and after childbirth. The fabrics would also be worn during wedding and funeral ceremonies. The Malian people believed that the images depicted on the fabric held special powers that would protect those who wore it.

African Mud Art in Modern Fashion
In the 1970s, Mali fought for their independence from the French, and during that time, a lot of the traditions of the Malian people were lost, including bogolanfini. However, some years later, African mud cloth was rediscovered, and in the 1980s, it became the symbol of the Malian people.

Thanks to Seydou Nourou Doumbia, known as Chris Seydou, a Malian fashion designer who was famous for using Malian fabrics, most notably bogolanfini, in his designs, African mud cloth was popularized around the world. The fabric has become a major Malian export, particularly to the United States. The intricate patterns are used to create visually interesting fashion pieces. Today, bogolanfini is worn by people around the world and certainly makes a bold fashion statement.

African Mud Cloth Fashion Pieces and Ideas
African mud cloth prints can be seen on virtually all types of clothing, from formal dresses to casual shirts. If you are fashion forward and you are interested in making a bold statement, you should certainly consider incorporating this trend into your wardrobe.

But, how do you go about wearing African mud cloth? Here are some ideas that you might want to try…

An example of a formal mud cloth fashion dress
An example of a formal mud cloth dress

As Formal Wear:
Whether you are attending a red carpet event or you are the celebrant at a formal affair, African mud cloth will certainly make a beautiful, eye-catching statement in your wardrobe.
You can find elaborate gowns that feature traditional African mud cloth prints, or prints that are inspired from the traditional prints that the Malian people created on bogolanfini. For example, a bogolanfini ball gown would make a definite statement on the red carpet or at a black tie event. Men can also incorporate bogolanfini into their formal attire; a bow tie, a neck tie or a shirt that features the intricate pattern would certainly stand out.

 

Semi Formal Attire:
You can certainly incorporate bogolanfini into semi formal attire to make an interesting and eye-catching fashion statement. These prints can be found on skirts, flowing robes, jackets and even slacks. Consider wearing a single bogolanfini inspired piece and accenting it with more understated items; for example, if you are going to wear an African mud cloth suit jacket, choose a solid colored shirt and pants to wear with it.

Professional Wear:
Why not add some fun to your work and wear African mud cloth inspired clothing to the office? A bogolanfini pencil skirt with a tailored shirt and heels would be absolutely stunning to wear to work. A tie that features a bogolanfini print with a solid colored button down shirt and a pair of trousers would look incredible on a man in the workplace.

African Mud Cloth Everyday Fashion:
You can also bring some bogolanfini inspired fashion into your everyday attire, too. If you’re spending the afternoon shopping and lunching with pals, an African mud cloth mini skirt or Capri pants paired with flats and a crisp, solid-colored T-shirt, button down or sweater would look divine. For men, an African mud cloth button down worn with a pair of jeans (the shirt not tucked in) would add some interest to an afternoon at a sporting event or drinks out with the guys.

African Mud Cloth Accessories:
How about adding some fun to your wardrobe with African mud cloth accessories? You can find bogolanfini prints on various types of accessories, including:

  • Clutches
  • Messenger bags
  • Briefcases
  • Wallets
  • Shoes
  • Tights
  • Socks
  • Earrings
  • Belts
  • Wraps
  • Shawls
  • Cell phone cases
  • Scarves

And those are just a few of the accessories that you can find with these beautiful prints!

African mud cloth fashion via colorful mud cloth scarves
Several colorful mud cloth scarves

Not sure how to work an African mud cloth accessory into your wardrobe? Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Use it as a hair accessory. Use a piece of African mud cloth fabric as a headband, a head wrap or a scarf around a pony tail
  • Wear a bogolanfini inspired scarf with a flowing T-shirt or a fitted T-shirt and a blazer
  • Tuck a shirt into a pair of pants and wear a belt printed with an African mud cloth design
  • A pair of earrings and shoes that feature an African mud cloth pattern would look lovely with a little black dress

 

There’s no doubt about it: African mud cloth is definitely one of the hottest trends in fashion. If you want to be totally fashionable and make a statement, you should absolutely add items that feature these beautiful designs to your wardrobe. A word of caution, however: Don’t overdo it; the patterns associated with African mud cloth can be very bold, and if you wear too much of it at one time, you will end up looking too busy and pull a fashion no-no instead.

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The Importance of Authentic Mud Cloth

African mud cloth, known in Mali as mud cloth, is a popular local product. It’s made of cotton fabric that is then dyed with fermented mud, lending the rugs a range of earthy tones. It has been used in Malian culture for centuries and is popularly associated with the country, with the cloth being typically touted as one of the nation’s iconic symbols of fashion and art.

As mud cloth fabric has grown in recognition and popularity, its production has increased. However, in many cases, there are cheap knock offs that fail to capture the care and attention required to produce these fabrics. A genuine mud cloth fabric product is traditionally made in the town of San, which is widely known for its productions. The process of creating these fabrics is time intensive and requires incredible attention to detail.

Making Mud Cloth

Making Mud Cloth
Making Mud Cloth

The process begins with men, who are traditionally the weavers of the cloth. The men of San typically use looms to weave together strips of cotton that are about six inches wide. These strips are then gathered up and stitched together, forming cloth that is usually about three feet wide and almost five feet long. This forms the first stage of the fabric’s production. However, until this point, the fabric remains uncolored.

Once the fabric has been fully stitched together, the dyeing process begins. The villagers bring together leaves from a local tree known as a n’gallama tree. These leaves are mashed together and boiled, forming a unique substance. Afterward, the cloth itself is soaked inside this mixture, leaving the cloth a yellow color. This dyed yellow fabric is then allowed to dry naturally, sitting out in the sun and baking throughout the day. During this time, as it is drying, it is painted with designs using pieces of either metal or wood.

The paint itself is created using a separate process. This process requires the villagers to collect mud from local riverbeds. It is then fermented for anywhere as long as a year in clay jars kept within the villages. Once a cloth needs to be painted, the villagers use the mod to create intricate designs and motifs, creating interesting an elaborate pattern on the rug’s surface. The mud itself reacts with the yellow dyed fabric during this time, bonding it with the rug. When the villagers attempt to wash off the cloth, the brown color remains on the fabric, leaving an elaborately colored and designed piece of cloth.

Afterward, one final step takes place. The n’gallama dye has to be removed, which is done by using either soap or bleach. As the yellow dye is removed during this time, the underlying design is stained white. Interestingly, long use of one of these cloth fabrics will turn various the darkest brown parts of the cloth different colors over time. This creates a wide range of brown shades that make the mud cloth fabric that much more visually impressive.

Authentic Vs. Knock-Off

As can be seen by the level of care that goes into the production of this fabric, a true African mud cloth is neither a quick nor easy process. A true, genuine mud cloth fabric product requires months to a year to produce, if only because the mud involved has to be allowed to ferment for so long. However, the final product is a piece of amazing quality that changes slightly with time, taking on a unique color and appearance.

Simpler, faster techniques might imitate the style of a mud cloth, but they will be unable to replicate the slow process that occurs in mud cloth fabric over time. Quickly produced cloth won’t change with the years, taking on new hues and colors. It will also lack the genuine cultural authenticity that a traditional mud cloth fabric involves. Many of these more quickly created fabrics will have sharply contrasting colors, typically black paints against white, that lack the slow transition of brown shades that true mud cloth fabrics possess.

Mass produced fabrics are also much more simply designed than traditional fabrics. True mud cloth fabric involves an incredible amount of attention to detail. The villagers who paint these fabrics invest significant time and care into creating the fabric’s ornate designs, and a visual inspection of the fabric will show a genuine mud cloth fabric to be far more elaborate and visually pleasing.

Unfortunately, many people who do not understand the difference in mud cloth fabric productions will often fall prey to individuals hoping to sell cheap knock off products. However, when a mass-produced mud cloth fabric is set next to a hand created one, the differences are immediately obvious. A genuine product is far more colorful and elaborately designed, making it a far more visually impressive production. Still, some of the benefits of buying genuine mud cloth fabric won’t be apparent until some time has passed. The many shades of brown the fabric takes on after years, for instance, is one way a genuine production stands apart. Mass produced knock offs lack the ability to change with the years.

Purple Mud Cloth
Purple Mud Cloth

The cultural significant of mud cloth fabric also can’t be overlooked. This fabric was used by hunters as camouflage and by women during adulthood rituals. The patterns on genuine mud cloth fabric are also culturally significant, and can refer to local myths, animals, and historic events. Mass produced varieties lack the connection to history and legend that a true production captures.

To truly capture a part of the African experience, only genuine mud cloth fabric will do. If you’re in market for one of these amazing productions, take a look at some being sold online and see for yourself the wide range in quality.  Start by checking our selection of quality pieces.  You’ll quickly notice that some mud cloth fabric is relatively simplistic and lacking in color. These are signs that the product is a knock off. True mud cloth fabric will be visually amazing and carry on it symbols that evoke the rich heritage of the Malian people.