African Inspiration in the Caribbean Fashion Industry

Clothing Fashion & Style

By Jackie Edwards


The Caribbean fashion industry had a slow start in terms of global recognition but is fast becoming more popular all over the world. As with all countries and regions, the various influences on Caribbean clothing are distinctive and have significantly aided in shaping the fashion that is most closely associated with the area.  The tropical climate of the region together with a penchant for beautiful, vibrant colours has lent itself to the gorgeous workings of the modern-day Caribbean fashion scene.

The influence of beautiful traditional African attire on the local fashion industry is often evident and can be seen in the brightly-coloured garments displayed on both the runways and in public that merges vibrant colours with free-flowing designs that engulf and adapt to the natural curves of the body.  Yet another strong African influence that can be seen in Caribbean fashion is the use of earth and its various elements: precious stones, tree bark, nuts, and seeds are all used to accessorize garments.


Traditional African influences seen in Caribbean fashion

One of the best examples of an African infusion in Caribbean clothing can be seen in quadrille dresses.  These dresses have different names in each country. In Jamaica it is known as the Bandana Skirt, St Lucia calls it a Kwadril Dress, in Haiti it is known as the Karabela dress and in Suriname it goes by the name of Kotomisi.  These dresses have been worn by women in the Caribbean for countless years and have inspired many garments ranging from peplum blouses to skirts and dresses from renowned fashion houses such as Preen and Yves Saint Laurent.   On the local front, celebrated Caribbean fashion designer Isy Obi’s collection of flowing resort wear is very reminiscent of the quadrille dress which in turn reminds strongly of the Gomesi dress from Uganda, both in design and print.  


The Gomesi dress and its influence on Caribbean fashion

The Gomesi is a floor-length, brightly coloured cloth dress that has a square neckline and short, puffy sleeves. The dress is tied with a sash below the waist over the hips and is usually made from cotton, linen or silk with silk being the most expensive option.  If you take a closer look at the work of local designer Jessie-Ann Jessamy who hails from Grenada, it is impossible to miss the Afro-Caribbean influences and more particularly, the strong resemblance some of her garments have to the humble Gomesi.

The influence of traditional African attire on Caribbean fashion is not limited to the beautiful garments of Uganda but involves a much larger scope of inspiration originating from the dark continent. There are a lot of cultural similarities between the two regions that can often be seen in the most beautiful of garments imaginable.