Ethiopian Culture Dress: Features of the "Horn of Africa"

Ethiopian culture dress differs by area, religion, tribe, and socioeconomic level. There is a mix of traditional and modern attire in Gondar, as well as some modern-traditional fashions. Everyone dresses up best for the holidays, even if it doesn't always match what a middle-class Gonderian would wear. So, traditional or not, "semi-traditional" or whatever you want to call it, seeing the effect of these ethnic garments on current design is fascinating.

1. Factors influencing the Ethiopian cultural dress

The types of Ethiopian cultural dress are very diverse because Ethiopia is home to around 80 ethnic groups living in various environments.

Each ethnicity has unique customs, traditions, beliefs, habits, and clothes. People's clothing materials would naturally differ because they live in diverse climes. Tribes living in the highlands have a moderate temperature; thus, they wear thicker clothing, but individuals living in the warmer and dryer lowlands need lighter clothing.

For example, the Harari people of Harar, located in the highlands, dress in heavier clothing in crimson, purple, and black. Darker colors absorb more heat and keep you warm. The Hamar people, who also live in the highlands, typically wear goatskin robes to keep warm.

In the lowlands, where there is a substantial Afar and Somali population, people wear longer clothing wrapped around the body to allow for improved ventilation. They are also more vibrant and lighter in color, collecting less heat from the sun.

Ethiopian cultural dress

Ethiopian cultural dress

2. Habesha Kemis

The Habesha Kemis is a long garment worn by ladies. Originally the Habesha women's outfit, it is now regarded as the general Ethiopian culture dress for ladies.

The needlework themes evolved over time as a result of the impact and blending of many civilizations. Many of today's designs, for example, show a combination of Christian and indigenous beliefs.

The sign of the cross is a prevalent motif in numerous Habesha Kemis. Today, it is regarded as a protective sign since it is said to ward off evil and misfortune. As a result, this emblem has both sacred and secular significance. Other patterns on the kemis complement and strengthen the cross's protective abilities.

Geometric designs, as well as the repetition of particular themes, increase their protective properties. Some examples are the zigzag, triangle, and 8-pointed star. Furthermore, alternate colors at the edge are said to keep evil at bay.

Richness and brilliance are enhanced with gleaming embellishments such as coins and silver or gold thread for embroidery. Furthermore, it is said to reflect wickedness. This is why, while shopping for kemis, ladies opt for dazzling parts.

Habesha Kemis is worn by Ethiopian women

Habesha Kemis is worn by Ethiopian women

Which accessories go with the Habesha Kemis?

Ethiopian culture dress is frequently complemented with a white scarf. There are many types of shawls, but the most common is a netela, a thin cotton shawl. The netela is knotted around the waist and complements the color and design of the kemis. It may even be wrapped around your head and shoulders.

Women of both Christianand Muslim religions usually use a white shawl to cover their heads in Ethiopia. The shawl's aim is not religious. Its purpose is to shield the user from the sun. That is why shawls are worn by both men and women. Men's attire will be covered shortly.

Women may even wear two netela, one for the head and one for the waist. The fota is another form of the shawl, a brightly colored shawl with checkered patterns and the softness of a towel.

The Habesha kemis is now designated for formal parties and important occasions like weddings, Christmas, and New Year.

3. Ethiopian Suit and Dashiki

The Ethiopian culture dress for men that is widely accepted across the country includes a long, full-sleeved shirt extending to the knees, typically in white color with some embroidery at the front, collar, cuffs, or all three places. The short collar of this shirt stands upright, similar to a mandarin collar. Underneath the shirt, the man wears matching trousers. The outfit is made of cotton, but chiffon is now a popular material. People usually wear it at formal events, special occasions, and even at places of worship.

On more casual occasions, males wear a dashiki that is similar to an Ethiopian suit but lacks a collar and may be half-sleeved. Ethiopian and Eritrean dashiki is typically white in various tints.

Men wrap a handmade shawl over their heads and bodies over their suits. There are several shawls available for guys. The gabi is a four-layer shawl that is typically used in chilly weather. In warmer weather, males wear the kuta, a two-layer shawl that is thinner and thinner.

Ethiopian dashiki

Ethiopian dashiki


The Shamma is a popular shawl worn by both men and women. It is a thin cotton shawl that was originally used to symbolize a person's social rank and status. The weight of the shawl, the number of layers, the thickness, and the quality of the shawl would determine its standing in the societal hierarchy.

The way the shawl is worn even conveys the wearer's mood, goal, and attitude.

These definitions, however, would vary from place to region. In the Gamo area of Ethiopia's highlands, for example, how a shawl is worn indicates the following:

  • The shawl covers the back, and a piece of fabric is slung over the right shoulder for everyday usage.
  • The wearer is mourning if the shawl is pulled over his or her face.
  • The user is engaged in some religious activity if the shawl is open and worn over both shoulders.

4. Sana-fil

The Afar live in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and, to a lesser extent, Somalia. Afar men and women both wear a cotton garment called a sana-fil. It is a piece of fabric that is wrapped around the waist and fastened. Previously, women's sana-fil was colored brown with clay colors derived from natural sources, whereas men's sana-fil was left uncolored. Sana-fil has developed and now comes in a variety of colors.

Previously, both men and women would just cover their lower bodies. Nowadays, men wear singlets and women wear t-shirts on top. Women can also knot their sana-fil at the bust instead of the waist to create a long garment.

After marriage, women also wear a black headscarf called a shash to indicate their married status.

The Afar was once a warrior society, and their dress reflects this. Men wear a long, curved dagger called a jile around their waist as part of their costume.

5. Cotton Culture

Ethiopians have been farming cotton for millennia. It is an old custom that has long supported people's livelihoods in both rural and urban places. Currently, the nation is Africa's second-largest cotton producer. This would explain why most items, particularly shawls and lowland clothing, are made of cotton. Cotton is an excellent material for staying cool in hot weather.

Traditionally, men would weave and embroider clothing to assist individuals in showing their social rank. Their contribution was and continues to be critical. Women, who were generally relatives of the weavers, were exclusively in charge of harvesting raw cotton and converting it into weaving threads. Women's participation in the entire process is higher today, and it isn't restricted to creating yarn.

Weaving and needlework are skills that are passed down through generations. This is how the custom has survived for ages.

Ethiopia is famous for cotton

Ethiopia is famous for cotton

6. Clothing in Ethiopia Today

Ethiopia clothing is currently heavily impacted by worldwide fashion trends as well as a desire for modernity. As a result, an increasing number of people, particularly the younger generation, want to wear western-style garments while adhering to the religious requirement of modesty. The bulk of the people in the Horn of Africa is Muslims. As a result, they are compelled to wear non-revealing clothing. Because of Somalia's proximity to the Arab world, Islamic fashion from the Maghreb and the Middle East, such as the jilbab and jalabiya, are popular among Muslim women.

Traditional clothing in Ethiopia, like traditional clothing in most other locations, is reserved for cultural events. They are more common in rural regions, though.

As a result, Ethiopian culture dress or even a blend of traditional, modern, well-off, and farming culture has resulted in a new type of traditional attire that incorporates elements from all of them. Fashion is one of many windows into the culture, and aspects are picked up from which to tell a tale of cultural domination, migrant mobility, and historical patterns.

More and more people traveling to Ethiopia to experience the diversity of its culture. Before having a trip to this “Horn of Africa” country, please ensure you obtain enough travel documents to gain legal entry. A visa is among those essential items. If you are still wondering how to get a visa for Ethiopia easily, please contact Ethiopia Immigration Services right away. Our Ethiopia e-Visa services make it simple and quick for you to begin your travel throughout Ethiopia. Let's investigate and look for the online application form from now on!