Dashiki: An African Fashion of the 1960s

Updated on November 22, 2019
Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores's interest in fashion history dates from her teenage years when vintage apparel was widely available in thrift stores.


The dashiki is a loose, pullover tunic associated with African culture and the US counter-culture of the 1960s. Usually made of cotton or a cotton blend, the dashiki features a deep V-neck, often decorated with a printed design or embroidery.

The traditional West African dashiki has short sleeves. Three-quarter-length sleeve versions often repeat the neckline decorations at the sleeve ends. Many dashikis feature two square patch pockets at the lower front of the garment.

The dashiki can be worn for both formal and informal occasions. Special events call for better fabric and classier decoration and can include wearing a robe over the shirt and pants for an elegant look.

Though often worn by men, dashiki styles have been embraced by women and appear in ankle or mid-calf length dresses, making for lovely hostess wear as well as beach wear. Graceful and modest, a dashiki style dress offers both comfort and allure. Loose and cool in hot weather, a dashiki or dashiki dress can be paired with pants or worn over a turtleneck shirt in cooler weather.

Though faded, this vintage dashiki provides ease of movement and sentimental comfort (it belonged to his grandmother)
Though faded, this vintage dashiki provides ease of movement and sentimental comfort (it belonged to his grandmother) | Source

Dashiki Background

The word "dashiki" comes from the Yoruba word "danshiki," meaning a work shirt, usually short-sleeved, worn by men in West Africa.

In the Hausa language, a "dan ciki" refers to an under-tunic. Tunics that are similar in design to the modern version were found in burial mounds in Mali and dated back to the 12th–13th century.

Dashiki style on an older woman
Dashiki style on an older woman | Source

Dashiki in America in the 1960s

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the United States in 1964, new fashions based on traditional African clothing gained popularity as people embraced their heritage. New Yorkers picked up on clothing worn by visiting African diplomats, and a new interest in African culture inspired young people of all races.The dashiki became an icon of the Black Pride movement and was seen worn by political activists, entertainers, artists, and students.

White college students and members of the hippie counter culture, fond of incorporating ethnic clothing styles in their dress, soon took to the dashiki. People liked the bright colors and comfort, a relief from the formal, tailored styles of the early 1960s.

Cheap dashikis imported from India, Bangladesh, and Thailand soon appeared in boutiques that offered the new ethnic, hippie style of fashion.

Kanga prints became a popular design motif. The Kanga is a colorful garment worn by women but also refers to a type of printed cloth that is bordered on all sides with a pattern and a repeat of the pattern in the center of the fabric.

Young Woman in a Dashiki-style Dress
Young Woman in a Dashiki-style Dress | Source

The Dashiki Today

Today's American dashiki is similar to a kaftan, djellaba, boubou, or an abaya. Worn by those who enjoy true comfort, the dashiki's cool, thin fabric makes for great summer wear. The loose cut allows for ease of movement and air flow in hot weather.

Dashikis can also be found made of heavier fabrics or worn on top of another shirt for warmth during cooler months.

The casual comfort of a dashiki makes it an excellent choice for beach wear, casual settings, and around the home. A dashiki looks great at any age, for men or women, and for all body types.

Stevie Wonder (see the video below) still makes appearances wearing a dashiki.

Stevie Wonder Still Wears a Dashiki

West African Folk Music: Men Wearing Dashikis


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