For nearly 4 years now, I've abided by the Bugandan dress code during traditional weddings. Each time we attend a kwanjula (a traditional "introduction" wedding ceremony), I obediently put on one of the two gomesis that I wore at my own kwanjula 2 years ago. I'll readily admit that I'm never excited to put on the gomesi. It is by no means a flattering dress, as it is designed to literally make you look as big as possible - the shoulder poofs go up to your ears and you're expected to wear layers of cloth around your waist to make you look fat. And on top of it all, it's certainly not an easy garment to wear with all its layers and huge belt hanging down to your feet.
Several weeks ago, one of our friends had a kwanjula to introduce her family to her new fiance. She requested we wear traditional dress and I cursed myself for not yet having a dress tailor made with kitenge cloth - the bright, colorful fabric used around Africa to make all kinds of beautiful clothes - so I could avoid the gomesi. But I begrudgingly pulled it out of my closet anyway and dutifully wore it to the ceremony, promising myself to have another dress made for these occasions that would satisfy the traditional requirement, yet be a bit more up-to-date in style.
It was about a week later when I received a text message from a friend with a photo of me from the event in a Ugandan tabloid magazine, wearing my gomesi and helping my friend Courtney tie hers. The accompanying caption told readers that although we white girls were smart (AKA looked nice), we were uncomfortable with the gomesi and each time we stood up to walk it was falling down. They also made fun of us for trying to tighten the midsection like belts. #culturalfail
Well, this was the last straw. No more gomesis, and no more tabloids for me! I marched right in to see my friend Patricia at OP Clothing and had her make a maxi skirt out of some kitenge fabric I found downtown Kampala. This, I told myself, would be my new "traditional" wear. And I would like it.
A few days later, I went to pick it up and I DID like it. Actually, I LOVED it!
Soon enough, I was hooked on tailor-made kitenge clothes. Although I'm not known to wear many loud pieces, I found that if done right, kitenge can make a great statement piece without being too obnoxious. I started looking online for more ideas and I quickly had Patricia make me a pair of dress pants out of another fabric I spotted in her shop.
I've received multiple compliments on these pants from my expat friends and Ugandan friends alike. I couldn't be happier with them and I'm in the process of coming up with more ideas for Patricia to make for me!
Both of these pieces fit me perfectly and were so reasonably priced. I realized that I had been ignoring a gold mine of a clothing source for the last 4 years since I've lived here! It's so fun to design my own clothes, choose my own material, and have someone else make the garments for a great price.
What's not to love?!
To have Patricia make something for you, stop by one of her stores at Prunes or at Gatto Matto or send her a message on Facebook to get in touch. You might even want something straight off the rack!
But then, I ran into another great stroke of luck. On Friday, I told my husband that I wanted to write a blog post about African fashion and feature what I've had made for myself. That night, on a double date, our friend Doreen told us about a fashion show that was happening the next evening! So on Saturday, I grabbed my camera and found my way there.
The show featured two designers, Kez and Medina, and their newest lines of kitenge fashion. Lucky for you, I snagged both of them aside for a few minutes and got their contact details, should you decide to have something made for yourself.
Kez makes shoes, clothes, and many other forms of art. His shop can be found at Grip & Sparks on Mulwana road in Bugalobi, across from the Civicon building. You can contact him via his Facebook page.
Medina's shop, called Lakalatwe, is in Gusto at Kisementi and has lots of skirts, dresses, blouses, and even hats. You can check out her Facebook page or give her a call at +256 779128139.
Here are some of their pieces. (Forgive me for not remembering which pieces are Kez's and which are Medina's.)