We all dream of putting on a fabulous celebration to say “I do”. Even better if said event features a nod to our culture and background! So why not pay tribute to African culture, with trendy outfits made of Ankara fabric (also known as “wax fabric”)? Why not give your bridesmaid dresses a unique twist by choosing an African print fabric? Or, how about an Ankara print wedding dress for a truly one-of-kind gown? Read our complete guide on how to wear an Ankara wedding dress, for a wedding bursting with color.
What Is Ankara Fabric?
Also known as Dutch Wax, Ankara Prints, African Wax, Deluxe Wax or Super Wax, Ankara fabric has been around for decades and is now at the height of fashion. It’s also called “wax print”. Indeed, the fabric is waxed on both sides to make it waterproof, and to allow it to be dyed in a multitude of beautiful, vivid colors. It’s mainly used to make African clothing, especially wraps. This light, traditional African garment is made from a single piece of fabric. It is then used to design all sorts of classic or modern styles.
Ankara prints are renowned for their detailed patterns and very bright colors. The remarkable thing about this cotton fabric is the fact that their colors are as bright on the front as they are on the back. They also don’t fade and hold their gorgeous shades for a very long time.
Wax print is made using a rather special technique. The manufacturers use two patterned copper rollers and apply a wax layer between the two. The (cotton-based) fabric is then covered with wax patterns and dipped in an indigo dye. Once dried, the fabric is printed on directly, or colored by hand. Both sides of the fabric are therefore covered in the same print thanks to this technique. To understand the process better, take a look at this beautiful video from the brand Uniwax that gives us a sneak peek into the manufacturing process.
Ankara fabric is very popular in sub-Saharan Africa where it is used to make all kinds of clothing, including Ankara fabric wedding dresses.
How Many Different Varieties of Ankara Fabric Are There?
Wax prints are originally of Javanese origin. However, they were imported to Africa by Dutch merchants in the 19th century. These prints conquered the continent, as well the heart of its African wearers. They claim to being a symbol of Africa and worked their way into its very identity. But, on this continent where economic development is tied to industrialization, there are very few “made in Africa” Ankara fabric manufacturers.
Vlisco, the “father of wax print”, produces 70 million yards of fabric (about 64 million meters) each year in the Netherlands. 90% of those are sold in Africa, netting almost €300 million in 2014. That’s pretty hard to ignore, and Vlisco offerings have proven hard to resist.
The African market has several types of Ankara prints on offer. Women have become experts in recognizing the different grades of fabric at a glance: “that’s Dutch wax”, “that’s Vlisco”, etc. As a matter of fact, there is a great variety in colors and patterns but also print quality.
One can find particularly vibrant versions (faux-wax) in the Ivory Coast. The patterns, sometimes depicting humorous or popular images (TV heroes, shocking slogans…), are drawn by artists from Burkina Faso, Mali or Ivory Coast. These items of clothing are hence often used to communicate a message.
Inspired by Batik, Ankara fabric shares the same patterns and colors but is manufactured in industrial quantities. Its lower quality and less durable sibling, the Fancy fabric, is made through a direct printing process. The latter appeared on the African market several years after Dutch wax prints. While it has lower durability and quality, it is much more affordable and accessible for the average family.
Ankara fabric comes in several variations. The quality mainly depends on where it was manufactured.
Dutch Wax Ankara Fabric
The Holland Wax or Dutch Wax Ankara fabric is, without a doubt, the most well-known. It’s made in the Netherlands and manufactured by internationally renowned companies such as Vlisco. Founded in 1846, this company has aimed its fashions squarely at the African upper classes for many years. Vlisco was a mark of social status and wealth, not unlike the way as silk and cashmere were and still are. Historically, this brand’s products were the preserve of the rich and African elites – presidents, ministers, celebrities, royalty. It wasn’t until 1930 that the company decided to widen its client base. Dutch designers draw inspiration from African colors and graphics to bring their collections to life.
English Ankara Fabric
English wax fabric is also a thing of luxury, hailing from across the pond in the United Kingdom. It’s just as good an option for designing your Ankara fabric wedding dress. It is still not thought of as highly as Dutch Wax Print, though. ABC Wax prides itself as one of the most reputable manufacturers of this fabric. Their designs are mainly sold in Ghana and Togo.
Ankara Fabric made in Africa
You can also create a wedding dress using African Ankara fabric.
African Wax Print was developed much later than its European counterparts. Ghana was the initial hub for the manufacturing of these materials. Production was then gradually relocated to other less expensive West African countries. In Benin, the Société Béninoise de Textile (SOBETEX) produces fabrics in three different quality categories. There’s Chigan, of equal quality to Dutch Ankara Fabric, the average quality Vedomè, and Chivi, which fades pretty quickly. Hence, we recommend going for Chigan for an Ankara fabric wedding dress.
There are also comparable wax fabric factories from Ivory Coast (Uniwax owned by Vlisco), Nigeria (Soniwaax), Senegal and Togo.
Chinese Ankara Fabric
Cheaper and lower quality Chinese Wax Prints are the latest fabrics to enter the market. They have been heavily criticized due to how fragile they are. This new imposter has nevertheless done a lot of harm to African-made wax fabrics, as its low price point makes it more affordable.
An Ankara fabric wedding dress has both the advantages of being on-trend and unique.
How to Wear an Ankara Print Dress on Your Wedding Day?
Ankara print has had a huge impact around the world and found itself at the heart of international fashion trends. Ankara fabric is highly prized beyond Africa’s borders. It can be found in boutiques in Europe, especially in Paris’ Barbès neighborhood where several shops offer European and African styles. Fashionistas like Rihanna and Lady Gaga have been seen sporting the print. It’s also been spotted (not without controversy, due to the clear cultural appropriation that surrounds its use) by fashion houses such as Burberry, H&M, Agnès B and Mary Katrantzou. Therefore, an Ankara fabric wedding dress has both the advantages of being on-trend and unique.
If you want to sidestep the traditional lace or organza wedding dress, you might very well be tempted by a patterned wedding dress made out of Ankara print fabric. When opting for an African fabric wedding dress, you’ll need to choose between several things. First, the choice of color, then the cut, and finally the patterns.
If you want to be the center of attention at your wedding (even if you don’t fancy being constantly in the spotlight), then consider wearing a wedding dress with a brightly colored print. You can add a touch of originality to your future partner’s attire as well, by making him a bow tie or a pocket square out of the same fabric as your wedding dress.
You might also choose a wax print dress with sequined details and/or silver or gold beading. As you can see, Ankara fabric gives you a wide variety of options to play with, and an unbeatable level of versatility.
What Design Should You Choose For Your Wedding Dress?
Getting an Ankara dress for your wedding is now super easy! You’ll find a number of fabrics that can be used to make a wedding dress or other outfits for the ceremony.
Even though Ankara fabric conjures up the idea of traditional African wraps, today’s designers from all over the world have taken this beautiful textile and styled it into all kinds of contemporary clothing. You hence don’t have to stress about how it will work with your wedding dress. It’s easy to create a wedding dress with any kind of neckline or shape, to be adapted to suit anyone’s taste.
The colored wax used to make the material comes in an infinite variety of shades, and the designs range from geometric shapes to floral prints and fun designs, and that means everyone can find the fabric of their dreams.
Ankara Wedding Dress For An Inverted Triangle Body Shape
You can opt for a flared wedding dress with a long train, cinched at the waist. A flared dress will work wonders for a V or inverted triangle body shape. For feminine silhouette for your Ankara wedding dress, go for a flared gown that’s fitted at the waist. Focus the brightly colored fabric on the lower half. On the other hand, if you want to make your shoulders less broad, then go for a sleeveless dress and skip the short-sleeved options.
An African Fabric Wedding Dress For A Hourglass Body Shape
A dress that clings to the body is recommended for those with an hourglass shape. This design will highlight your bust and emphasize your small waist. You’ll love a sweetheart neckline dress, a V-neck, or one with thin straps.
Wax Print Dress for a Petite/Rectangle Body Shape
If you have a straight and thin shape, go for a wax print wedding dress with a plunging neckline. It will showcase your bust. To give even more volume to your body, you may choose a slightly flared dress – an A-line shape is an excellent idea. Your body will look super feminine with a long train. A darker color to the belt will also help highlight your tiny waist.
A Wedding Dress in Ankara print for a Triangle Body Shape (Pear)
For an A-shaped body, a boat neck dress is a perfect choice if you want something simple and chic (read our article on necklines to learn more.) If you would like to draw attention away from your hips, go for a strapless gown or one with detailing on the bust to draw attention to your top half. Empire and A-line dresses are also a great choice if you want to slim down the hips and show off your gorgeous shoulders. Otherwise, a beautiful mermaid dress with Ankara detail on the train will highlight your curves.
Some Examples of Fantastic Ankara Print Wedding Gowns
The African print wedding dresses that stand out are generally a mix of fabrics, with the Ankara print sometimes used as an accent. A dressmaker is indeed able to use two or more different fabrics to create an incredible dress. The first fabric is usually used to make the dress itself. The second one will add a bit of color in the form of a train, belt, veil, trim, etc.
A full-color wax print dress is also a great option, and will come as a big surprise to your guests. Its modern design and trendy colors will have your gown remembered by all! You’ll definitely stand out from all your guests and all eyes will be on you as the star of the show!
You can set off your look by wearing African jewelry as well. Or, keep it simple by just wearing a gold or silver necklace, bracelets and earrings. Some women even choose to wear an African wedding dress accompanied by a hat made out of one or two colors from the dress. You can also choose to wear a headband made from the dress fabric. The final result is amazing and put together.
What Other Types of Fabric Can Be Used For An African Wedding dress?
Among the many variations of African fabrics used to make wedding dresses we have Kente, Koko Dunda, Batik, Bogolan, Ewe or Ashanti, Kita, Faso Dan Fani and Bamiléké Ndop, only to name a few. However, these fabrics are not very well known because many people still prefer Ankara prints. That said, although industrial printed fabrics are gaining a foothold in the textile market, handmade fabrics continue to be highly prized and are used for traditional ceremonies.
The Timeless Kita or Kente
The Kita or Kente is among the most popular and fashionable at the moment. Originally from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, this traditional fabric embodies the many different cultures that co-exist in Africa.
Kente fabric has often been used in new fashion trends over the last few years. You’ll no doubt fall in love with this fabric as a symbol of nobility and prestige.
Entirely handmade, it’s made by weaving together several different colored cotton and silk threads. This technique has been handed down from generation to generation. Kente is also available in different types, including Ewe Kente, which represents animal or human designs, and Ashanti Kente, which features brightly colored geometric patterns.
Each color that makes up the Kita has its own meaning:
- White is the symbol of purity and peace.
- Yellow symbolizes wealth and opulence.
- Blue expresses wisdom, humility, and patience.
- Green stands for life, prudence, and nature.
The Kente’s shapes also have precise meanings:
- A square, for example, symbolizes the cosmos, femininity, and the Earth.
- The circle, on the other hand, expresses divinity and infinity.
- A diamond corresponds to the destiny of humanity and the existential duality of existence.
All that’s left for you to choose is the perfect Kita’s fabric color and patterns for the African wedding dress you’ve always dreamed of.
The Koko Dunda's Major Comeback
Koko Dunda is another fabric you can choose for your African wedding dress. It’s a traditional, handmade fabric from Burkina Faso. It’s currently all the rage on the streets in West Africa and beyond, as well as on catwalks at fashion shows. One of the forces behind this revitalization is the Burkinabè fashion designer Bazem’sé. Indeed, he set himself the challenge of making the koko dunda a fabric of international renown, and he is greatly succeeding.
Today, many famous people or politicians proudly wear Koko Dunda. Designers have also decided to showcase it in different ways at fashion shows and in their collections. If you want yours to be the most memorable wedding your guests have ever been to, go for this traditional fabric!
Aso-Oke, a Fabric That Never Goes Out Of Style
You can also choose a wedding dress made from Aso-Oke. This fabric is widely used to create Yoruba traditional clothes. It’s a must-have at any Yoruba wedding ceremony. It is available in several colors, and can be custom made in any pattern by Aso Oke designers like Bimmms and Shadiat Alasooke. So you can pick the ones that match the theme of your ceremony.
Use our tips to come up with a beautiful blend of fabrics, and let your imagination run wild to create a dress that’s uniquely you!
And, that’s it for today!
We’ve had a great time exploring the richness of African fabrics with you. We hope that this article will not only spark some ideas for your Ankara fabric wedding dress, but also inspire you to look into African wedding dresses in general.
Here at JoSaBi, we work with our brides to create the dress of their dreams, in any fabric they may choose. We hence take orders for dresses in Ankara print fabric, Bogolan, Kente, etc.
Thanks and see you soon for more beautiful brides and wedding tips!