Kwanzaa is a joyous holiday centered around family, community, and culture that celebrates African-American ethos and the greater Pan-African diaspora. Established to unite and celebrate Black Americans during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s in America, Kwanzaa takes place during the holiday season every year over seven days, from December 26th to January 1st. While there are no official requirements for attire, there are themes in décor and certain attire that is typically worn that help celebrate and emphasize Pan-African culture.
Whether you celebrate every year and are looking for some new outfit ideas, or you are celebrating this year for the first time and are unsure where to start, we have some fantastic Kwanzaa ensemble ideas to inspire your holiday wardrobe. From men’s and women’s attire to kid’s clothing, we’re here to help you find the best outfits for you and your family’s Kwanzaa celebration.
While traditional African apparel is an important part of this celebration of ancestry and cultural identity, it is also very common practice to incorporate modern everyday pieces into these outfits as well. A popular outfit option for men, for example, is a traditional dashiki worn over a pair of black or tan men’s dress pants. Depending on where you live, either sandals or dress shoes may both be appropriate.
Because Kwanzaa is celebrated over seven days, with each day representing a core tenet of the holiday (Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith), you may have more than one occasion to dress up. If you want to mix up your outfits over the course of the week while still maintaining the spirit of the holiday within your look, opt for lots of bright colors or those of the Pan-African flag: black, red, and green.
These highly symbolic colors are an important aspect of Kwanzaa for both dress and decor. Black is worn to represent the people of Africa and the diaspora, red stands to represent the blood and ancestry that unites the diaspora, and green represents that rich land of Africa. Incorporate them as much as possible!
Women often wear long colorful maxi dresses or more traditional African maxi robes called caftans. Colorful, silky headwraps and accessories are also frequently worn in complementary colors or prints.
Some women may also choose to wear a dashiki, usually with a long matching skirt. Kwanzaa is a celebration in which the incorporation of lots of bright colors is encouraged. It is also common to wear pieces, both traditional and non-traditional, that are intricately embroidered or heavily sequined. Kente cloths are also frequently incorporated into dressing for Kwanzaa festivities.
Kwanzaa is all about African-Americans reclaiming and celebrating cultural identity. Involving young children in the Kwanzaa celebrations, from lighting the candles in the kinara to helping cook food to choosing their own outfits for the week, is a great way to instill these ideals early on in their lives.
Encourage them to embrace the holiday and dress in traditional garb as well. It is also common, and perhaps more comfortable for the little ones to wear Kwanzaa-themed kid’s tees or simply dress in fun, brightly colored outfits. Because Kwanzaa comes right after Christmas and many families celebrate both holidays, family members often gift each other traditional garb or accessories to wear over the upcoming week (and for future celebrations).
Another part of many Kwanzaa celebrations is the tradition of hand-making and exchanging small gifts. Though anyone can participate, this specific Kwanzaa tradition is usually upheld by and for small children.
Women and girls will often wear silk or satin dress scarves or traditional headwraps over their hair during Kwanzaa celebrations. Men will frequently choose to wear a kufi cap. One of the principles of Kwanzaa is the practice of ujamaa. This is the idea of community economics and supporting Black and African-owned businesses. Because of this, even if one does not wear fully traditional garb, they may choose to instead wear clothing accessories and jewelry from Black and African businesses.
Because Kwanzaa is a celebration and a multi-day holiday that is cultural and not religious, everyone in the Pan-African diaspora are encouraged to embrace and celebrate this incredible holiday. As mentioned, Kwanzaa does not come with a strict dress code, so wear what will make you feel comfortable and proud.