Saturday, March 25, 2023

Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Tells Elle of Igbo Style, Dressing Down & Following in Her Mother’s Stylish Footsteps

Conveniently tying with a month of Mothers in Fashion here at SPICE, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is featured on ELLE this month, talking of following in her stylish mother’s footsteps after years of ‘dressing down’ and deviating from her love of fashion.

In her personal essay on style, titled Why Can’t a Smart Woman Love Fashion?, the author (of brilliant books Half of a Yellow Sun, Americana and Purple Hibiscous) says she strived to ‘make the right impression’ while studying and living within Western society, despite her roots in Igbo culture, which expects women to dress well.

“Middle-class Igbo women invested in gold jewelry, in good shoes, in appearance. They searched for the best tailors to make clothes for them and their children. They spoke of grooming almost in moral terms.

The rare woman who did not appear well dressed and well lotioned was frowned upon, as though her appearance were a character failing. “She doesn’t look like a person,” my mother would say.”


The 36 year old, whose novel Half of a Yellow Sun is to become a film this year (read about it, here), wrote of her Mother’s style:

“Her shoes and handbag always matched. Her lips shone with gloss. As she moved, so did the heady scent of Dior Poison… My mother also wore colour: skirt suits, feminine swingy dresses belted at the waist, medium-high heels. She was stylish…”

The literally success also wrote about being a teenager, experimenting with clothes and her Mother’s thoughts on her early dress sense, explaining:

“I searched her trunks for crochet tops from the 1970s. I took a pair of her old jeans to a seamstress who turned them into a miniskirt. I once wore my brother’s tie, knotted like a man’s, to a party.

My mother did not always approve of (my) clothing choices, but what mattered to her was that I made an effort. Ours was a relatively privileged life, but to pay attention to appearance – and to look as though one did – was a trait that cut across class in Nigeria.”

Nigerian born, Chimamander Ngozi Adichie, author of the novel Purple Hibiscus.

In her essay for ELLE, Chimamanda wrote of how, at 26, her wardrobe changed drastically, when:

“A fellow aspiring writer said of one faculty member, “Look at that dress and makeup! You can’t take her seriously.” I thought the woman looked attractive, and I admired the grace with which she walked in her heels. But I found myself quickly agreeing. Yes, indeed, one could not take this author of three novels seriously, because she wore a pretty dress and two shades of eye shadow.

I had learned a lesson about Western culture: Women who wanted to be taken seriously were supposed to substantiate their seriousness with a studied indifference to appearance… I was eager to be taken seriously. And so began my years of pretense. I hid my high heels. I told myself that orange, flattering to my skin tone, was too loud. That my large earrings were too much.”


Now falling back to her Igbo roots and a life loving fashion, the novelist talks of ditching down-dressing, saying:

“I am now 36 years old. During my most recent book tour, I wore, for the first time, clothes that made me happy. My favorite outfit was a pair of ankara-print shorts, a damask top, and yellow high-heel shoes… I no longer pretend not to care about clothes. Because I do care.

I love embroidery and texture… Lace and full skirts and cinched waists… I love heels, and I love flats. I love my two wonderful tailors in Nigeria, who often give me suggestions and with whom I exchange sketches.

I dress now thinking of what I like, what I think fits and flatters, what puts me in a good mood. I feel again myself – an idea that is no less true for being a bit hackneyed.”

As for her stylish Mother, not much seems to have changed:

“My mother made history as the first woman to be registrar of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka; her speeches at senate meetings were famous for their eloquence and brilliance. Now, at 70, she still loves clothes. Our tastes, though, are very different. She wishes I were more conventional. She would like to see me wearing jewellery that matches and long hair weaves.”

Well, we at SPICE thoroughly enjoyed the insight into Chimamanda’s style and that of her Mother’s, and will look forward to seeing the author, who proudly ended her essay “
I am my mother’s daughter, and I invest in appearance,” in some amazing new outfits.

Till then, you can read the article in full, here.

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