Would turning up to a wedding in the same outfit as your best friend’s sister be your worst nightmare? Well, at many West African weddings, particularly in Nigeria, matching outfits are actually required.
Family members and relatives all wear Aso-ebi (pronounced Ah-Shaw-Eh-Bee). This is when the bride’s family, bridal party and close friends use the same fabric and have it tailored in similar or different styles.
Aso-ebi (which means ‘family cloth’) is one of Africa’s oldest cultural traditions and is worn to identify a group and show unity and support.
Usually the fabric and patterns are chosen by the bride and guests are expected to buy their own. However, close friends and family members may be given the Aso-ebi as a gift.
Contemporary Aso-ebi is usually made of ankara (a trendy, colorful patterned cotton fabric) lace or adire (a dyed fabric produced in West Africa).
As the tradition has grown, the designs have become more elaborate with mixed materials like velvet and sequins and with varying lengths.
These days Aso-ebi is worn at social events like birthday and anniversary parties, naming ceremonies and funerals and not only by family members but by all the guests.
Depending on the quality of the fabric Aso-ebi can be pricey, especially for an outfit that might only be worn once. For this reason some guests choose not to wear the Aso-ebi and risk offending the wedding couple.
However, this expression of African culture remains a strong tradition that emphasizes the important of family. For many, wearing Aso-ebi is not only a fashion statement but a way to celebrate the vibrancy and richness of African culture.