In the early 60’s women in Uganda still stuck to the traditional wear. In Uganda Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of Toro kingdom was the ultimate fashion icon having been the first African woman to appear on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and the also the first to have been given a spread in the fashion bible- Vogue. However in the early 60’s women in Uganda still stuck to the traditional wear (Gomesi) while others embraces the British conservative styles.
Perpetua Amuge Odeke who was 21 years old in 1960 and living in Soroti district recalls that Uganda women wore Gomesis, Kitenge, long dresses which were later termed as Amin Nvako, a term coined after the former president Idi Amin banned women from wearing miniskirts.
“We also wore bed sheets, which were cut according to someone’s size and we did not own shoes because they were expensive,” she says. Round skirts also known as the ‘twist and tight’ were a hit especially for the ballroom dances. “You would rotate and the skirts would also go round with you as you danced,” Amuge reminisces.
When it came to the hair styles, the afros reigned supreme among both men and women. However, some women plaited cornrows known as Kiswahili and bututwa. During this time, the straight hair syndrome was beginning to take its toll and so Amuge says that ladies resorted to using pieces of heated broken pot and iron sheets to straighten their hair after applying oil to it.
“We would put holes in the iron sheet for the ash and the person doing it had to be conscious not to burn the client. She also had to ensure that she removed the ash,” Amuge explains.
Accessories like bags, jewelry and scarfs compliment outfits. During independence the women’s handbags in Uganda were made out of palm leaves and sisal. “The makers were very artistic, I tell you,” Amuge boasts. When it came down to the shoes, women teetered on closed platform shoes popularly known as the Gabon.
When it came to men’s fashion, Kavuma Kaggwa a veteran journalist explains that after 70 years under British rule most of the country’s way of life was hinged on their characteristics. He says that during and after independence, Uganda’s first president Kabaka Mutesa I of Buganda was the fashion icon for the males.
“One day in 1958 he attended a football match in Katwe wearing a tweed coat and it immediately became popular among young men,” Kaggwa recalls.
Mutesa also made the double breast jacket a favorite when he wore one adorned with golden buttons to church. “I really do not recall which church it was but it was either Rubaga Cathedral or Namirembe Cathedral but all I know is the men immediately wanted to own double breasted jackets after seeing the Kabaka,” Kaggwa says.
It is impossible to talk about suits in the 1960s and not acknowledge the Kaunda suit, which became a favourite of Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere and many Ugandan men.
Originally called the safari suit with its roots in India, the quadri-pocket short-sleeved jacket subsequently became known as the Kaunda suit a trademark of Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda. “Nyerere first saw the suit on Kaunda during a delegates conferences he attended wearing an English suit; he admired it and choose to make it his signature outfit,” Kaggwa explains.