How does a traditional 'Agbada' outfit look?

What do you know about Agbada outfits? How do they look like and what is the history behind this sort of clothes? Let’s check out the tradition behind Agbada outfit together.


Agbada is the name of an outfit that is made up of four parts of menswear. This particular sort of traditional clothes can be found among the Yoruba people living in southwest Nigeria, Republic of Benin as well as West Africa.

To make this traditional outfit you need to know that it is composed of several parts:

  1. a large, free outer loose cloth also known as awosoke,
  2. an undershirt called awotele,
  3. long pants called by Sokoto;
  4. a hat (fila).

agbada styles

The large free outer loose piece of cloth is what the entire outfit gets its “agbada” name. If you want to go into more details, this name means "a sizable dress." As you already know, it is a large, loose-fitting clothing, most commonly ankle-length. In its turn, it is made up of three parts: a rectangular central part with wide sleeves. The central part is usually covered (front and back) with embroidery patterns and has a special hole for the neck (also known as orun) and a pocket (called apo). The size, patterns, and materials of embroidery can be of all sorts. It all depends on how much the owner of this attire is willing to spend on his gown.

There are two types of the undershirt we mentioned above: one is called buba, and it is a loose-fitting, round-neck shirt with short sleeves; as well as dansiki, also a loose, round-neck, gown but this one has no sleeves. Yoruba pants we talked about all have their straps for attachment around the waist. These pants can be very different when it comes to shapes and lengths. The two most popular pants for agbada is sooro, fitting, ankle-length ones; and kembe, loose, with a full bottom. They usually are longer than a knee-length but not too longer.

agbada designs

People that like this traditional outfit usually choose different types of hats. The most popular one is known as Gobi: it has a spectacular cylindrical shape, and reaches up to ten inches or more in length. You can wear it in any manner you like it, including compressing it and moving it to the front, to the right or left as well as to one’s back. Literally translated the name of the other hat stands for "a dog-eared hat." We are talking now about abetiaja crestlike hat that has got its name given the shape of its hanging flaps that can be used to cover the ears in cold weather. When not used to cover ears, these flaps can be attached on the sides upward not to bother the owner of the outfit. Labankada is a larger variant of the last hat we mentioned. People usually wear it aiming to draw attention to the contrasting fabric, which is used as the lower layer of the flaps.

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On top of that, people that are really into fashion choose to add bright accessory also know as ibora: this accessory is used as a so-called wraparound. Agbada outfit also needs special footwear or sandals called bata to fulfill the general look.

The history behind the outfit

It should be noted that agbada outfit was not only popular among the Yoruba people. People from all over the continent hose to wear it as a traditional outfit. Thus, the official data shows that agbada was discovered in other corners of Africa, too. This outfit was worn by the Wolof Senegambia (however, they called it mbubb) as well as by the Hausa and Fulani of the West African savanna. Actually, the latter brought the idea of agbada to the Yoruba.

agbada pictures

The general opinion among the scientists is that the outfit emerged in the Middle East and was brought to the Africa Berber and Arab merchants from the Maghreb (Mediterranean Sea) and the desert Tuareg in the Trans-Trade, that took place in the times before Christians came to these locations. Since the economic relations between the Yoruba and the merchants from the Maghreb took place up until the 19th century, the latter adopted a lot from their culture and traditions. Apparently, this gown was one of the things they picked up from them.

However, the precise time when this sort of traditional outfit was brought to the Western Africa remains a mystery. Nevertheless, some scholars state that they have evidence that proves that this kind of outfit became more popular among the people living in this region around the 11th century; from that time one, Yoruba chose to call Agbada their traditional clothes. And not only they, but also people living in the ancient kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Bornu and Kanem, as well as in the states of Hausa in northern Nigeria.

agbada styles for ladies

The interesting thing is that when a man wore this outfit together with a turban, it was an explicit statement by the one wearing it that he is either an Arab, Berber, Tuareg desert or an adherer of Islam. Given how expensive the materials for this gown are, just looking at the agbada one can state how wealthy the person is wearing it is. Moreover, different patterns on it are supposed to mean different things. Some of them bring luck, like for instance agbadas with Arabic calligraphy on them. These particular ones are called baraka.

However, it did not remain the outfit of adherers of Islam only for a long time. That is why  at the beginning of the 11th century the adherers of other religions got agbadas and decided to adopt it as their national outfit, too. In fact, people that lived in the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa at that time, most especially kings, chiefs and elites, considered it beautiful and outstanding as well as sophisticated enough to bring it to their people. It still works this way: if the gown is all covered with embroidery patterns, the owner should be considered wealthy and prestigious.

latest agbada designs

Types of agbadas

If you are interested in learning even more about kinds of this outfit, then let’s see what kinds there are known today. Basically, there are two of them: the one for the everyday use and the other one for special occasions. The first kind is also known as Sapara, and it is not a large as the other one. This sort is less bulky and often made of regular cotton. It was first created at the beginning of the 20th century. It got its name after the Yoruba medical worker, Dr. Oguntola Sapara. He stated that the other sort of Agbada outfit was not good enough for everyday use. That is why he asked if a professional tailor he knew could make it significantly smaller. For that purpose, he ordered special cotton from abroad.

The other type of the outfit, as you can see from the pictures of agbada has complicated designs and patterns that require professional assistance and detailed hard work. It is usually made of heavy materials. The biggest in size and with the most beautiful and complicated embroidery agbada is known as girike.

People familiar with the matter state that according to the agbada designs the best material for it is called aso oke or aso ofi. These both names are a historical reminder that both of these materials were brought to the Yoruba living in the South of the land by those inhabiting the North.

agbada styles for ladies

However, it also points out the close relation of these peoples and their intercultural relations that have made a significant footprint in their history. Here is what the Encyclopedia shows us about this kind of outfit:

“A typical narrow-band weave is produced on a horizontal loom in a strip between four and six inches wide and several yards long. The strip is later cut into the required lengths and sewn together into broad sheets before being cut again into dress shapes and then tailored. A fabric is called alari when woven from wild silk fiber dyed dark red; sanyan when woven from brown or beige silk; and etu when woven from indigo-dyed cotton. In any case, a quality fabric with elaborate embroidery is expected to enhance social visibility, conveying the wearer's taste, status, and rank, among other things. Yet to the Yoruba, it is not enough to wear an expensive agbada— the body must display it to full advantage. For instance, an oversize agbada may jokingly be likened to a sail (aso igbokun), implying that the wearer runs the risk of being blown off-course in a windstorm. An undersized agbada, on the other hand, may be compared to the body-tight plumage of a gray heron (ako) whose long legs make the feathers seem too small for the bird's height.”

On top of that, fashion and design are extremely important for both men and ladies when it comes to agbada. So, make sure to ask only professionals to make these outfits for you to stay within limits and look fashionable.

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