The Lady and the Blouse
Women’s Week is here, and it all comes to a head with Mothering Sunday this weekend. In Nigeria, Mothering Sunday is a celebration of womanhood and motherhood, with an outpouring of appreciation and a general mood of joy. Such events are seldom marked without a uniform or costume to properly identify with fellow celebrants of the occasion.
Mothering Sunday is typically celebrated in orthodox Churches with that most traditional of uniforms (particularly) for Southern women in Nigeria – a blouse and a wrapper. It is not uncommon to see a sea of white blouses with blue wrappers crediting Mary Sumner – the founder of Mothers Union in the Anglican Church. Indeed, wrappers and womanhood are to some parts of Southern Nigeria as the Little Black Dress is to women of the Western world.
Most women with Nigerian mothers spent childhoods observing the ritual of pairing blouses with wrappers, and completing the look with elaborate headgear and accessories. At some point, it seemed as though the wrapper would die away, with newer trends such as Skirt and Blouse gaining popularity, but the core traditional functionality has ensured this staple lives on. For women of a certain age attending or hosting important occasions, it is an extreme faux pas and evidence of lack of understanding of heritage to wear anything else.
There’s nothing quite as interesting as wearing a blouse and a wrapper. For some, it’s as natural as wearing a day dress, and for others it takes a particular frame of mind to pull off. Some women are able to tie their wrapper in record time, deftly securing it to their waists in an elegant swoop. Others need someone to assist, and can never quite figure how to deal elegantly with the ‘end’ of the wrapper.
The modern way is quite neat – the entire fabric is terminated securely in a knot that’s tucked and hidden in the folds of the wrapper at side or back of the waist. The traditional way requires some overhang, and the fabric is never knotted but allowed to fall gracefully after being tucked (not securely!) into the fabric folds at the waist.
This method is the most engaging, as it requires the wearer to constantly secure it. There is an allure and reinforcement of the wearers capability and womanhood in her constant adjustment of the wrapper. However the modern method of the single or double knot is more practical, particularly for the uninitiated, as the wearer is left hands free and can go about her activities without the burden of constantly attending to the wrapper.
Creating a modern uniform?
Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could make our way around in blouses and wrappers as a daily uniform? If Indians can have their Saris and wear them everywhere, why cant we? The complicated ethics of workplace dressing in Nigeria, the weather and limited functionalities of blouse and wrapper, make this a highly unlikely outcome.
What we can have, though, is a new take on traditional blouse and wrapper for occasions. With this purpose, I gathered a number of my Vlisco fabrics - the classics of which many girls from the eastern part of Nigeria know by given name and purpose - and spent days pairing ‘wax hollandais’ with plain fabrics. There is an unbridled joy when one finally finds a wrapper that ‘goes’ with a blouse. Sometimes the blouse leads the search, sometimes it’s vice versa, mindful of texture and tone.
Once the symphony of coordination is complete, the next task is determining the structure of the blouse. We pass through numerous design pet peeves, but at this point, lace is a least favorite fabric for blouses in particular, because I feel the fabric dictates design parameters. One also sometimes notices the lace before the wearer, which I find intolerable! I prefer to celebrate blouse and wrapper in its stark beauty by using unadorned fabrics. Any design dream will do, because it is grounded by the firm hold of the wrapper.
The designs we created were driven by the thought of how a younger woman might carry on tradition by wearing blouse and wrapper in an updated way. What better time to celebrate this most womanly of outfits than on Mothers Day? These four looks are an ode to traditional dressing from a modern perspective. We considered exploring these looks without any headgear, but a warning note for my Mother, who is from Delta (the heartland of blouse and wrapper), ‘Blouse and wrapper is never complete without headgear’ changed my mind.
Out came leftover pieces of the blouse and wrapper fabrics, and eschewing the flashy accessories that are the order of the day, we created a variety of headgear that can easily be recreated and personalized.
In any case, style is very personal and ladies will dress as they wish – but we are delighted to share our personal views. May our mothers continue to inspire us within and without.
Happy Mothering Sunday!