South African Art And Apparel

South African Art And Apparel

From the Bushmen cave paintings to the Ndebele art and and architecture, South Africa is a minefield in artistic heritage. Fashion is no exception. South African clothing brands such as Loxion Kulca reflect the street and lifestyle of urban Africa through apparel. And Mbatsani Africa Corporate Clothing specialises in corporate wardrobes that translate the fundamental value of your company’s brand and product.

A Brief History Of South African Art

South African Art And Apparel

The San Bushmen created art on the walls of caves and rock shelters from about 4000 years ago. Their art is the largest and most concentrated group of rock paintings in sub-Saharan Africa.

After the colonialists arrived and virtually drove the San people away in the 19th century, art tended to depict what the white settlers saw as the “new world”.

During the apartheid years, black artists were largely neglected while white artists had training, resources and supportive galleries. Despite this, some black artists concentrated on depicting their realities and environments in a direct, though forcefully expressionist, manner. They inevitably began to give voice to a political sensibility in the 80’s with “resistance art”. This was directed at the white elite’s oppressive exercise of power.

Although the 90’s saw the end of legislative apartheid, artists such as Siyabonga Sikosana paint township life with bright colours mixed with some dark elements highlighting socio-economical disparities with humor and irony. For example, one of his paintings has electricity poles placed neatly in rows, but have they have no wires. This suggests that there is no electricity despite political promises of a better life for all made to the people. And Mzuzile Mduduzi Xakaza’s landscapes draw on personal and collective histories of KwaZulu Natal. His gaze reclaims a land with a troubled history of dispossession.

In the meantime, craft such as  beadwork, pottery, basketry and wooden carving continue to thrive and the Ndebele tradition of house-painting is exploding.

South African Art And Apparel

South African Clothing

South Africa’s diverse mix of cultures, ethnic groups and religions has given rise to a variety of traditional dress. In African cultures for example, age and social standing is reflected in the clothes a person wears.


The Xhosa culture has a complex dress code informed by a person’s social standing, and features beautiful beadwork and printed fabrics. Traditionally, women’s clothing and accessories show the different stages of life.

Their main items of clothing include long skirts and aprons in beautiful printed or embroidered fabrics. Elaborate beaded necklaces called ithumbu are worn around the neck. The iqhiya or headscarf is traditionally worn by married women. To complete the ensemble, embroidered capes or blankets are worn around the shoulders.

Xhosa men traditionally filled the roles of warrior, hunter and stockman and as such, animal skin formed an important part of their traditional wear. On special occasions embroidered skirts are worn with a rectangular cloth over the left shoulder, or a tunic and strands of beaded necklaces.


South African Art And Apparel

In Zulu culture, women also wear different attire at different stages of their lives. A single young woman wears her hair short and only a short grass-reed skirt embellished with beads, while engaged women will cover their breasts and grow their hair.

A married woman covers her entire body to indicate that she is spoken for. She wears a thick cowhide skirt that has been softened with animal fat and charcoal. Traditionally, women covered their bosom with a cloth, but nowadays cotton vests or beaded bras are worn along with beaded necklaces.

The most iconic adornment are circular-shaped hats called izicolo, which are worn by married women. These hats were traditionally made of grass and cotton and measured as much as a metre across to protect the wearer from the sun.

Zulu men traditionally wear animal skins and feathers. Because the Zulu revere leopards as the king of all predators, only royalty are allowed to wear leopard skin. A front apron (isinene) and a rear apron (ibheshu) are worn to cover the genitals and buttocks. The tufts of a cow’s tail called amashoba are worn on the upper arms and below the knees to give the appearance of greater bulk. Headbands are only worn by married men.


The Ndebele tribe are renowned for their intricate beadwork and brightly coloured homes painted in striking geometric designs. The main element of Ndebele women’s wear is an apron. Girls wear small beaded aprons, while older girls wear isiphephetu, a beaded apron given to them by their mothers, and isigolwani which are thick beaded hoops worn around their necks, arms, legs and waist.

Married women wear longer aprons made of hardened skin that are lavishly decorated in geometric designs. They also wear isigolwani and copper rings called idzilla around the neck, ankles and arms. Girls and unmarried women traditionally do not cover their breasts, whereas married women cover their upper bodies with blankets in multi-coloured stripes or beaded designs.

Ndebele men wear animal skin aprons and beaded breast-plates or iporiyana which hangs from the neck. The iporiyana is a symbol of manhood and is given to a young man by his father after he has undergone initiation. Animal skin headbands and ankle bands are also worn along with a cape.

These are just three examples of the diverse cultural dress that South Africa has.

South African Workwear

Despite more than 30% of the South African workforce being unemployed, there is a great demand for suitable workwear. Contact Mbatsani Africa Corporate Clothing to see how we can help you invest in a corporate wardrobe that translates the intrinsic value of your product while keeping your cultural heritage.

    Leave Your Comment Here