An African Wrapper and How To Use It
Updated: Sep 18
An African wrapper is a 2-metre cloth used across the African continent by both men and women. In this article, an African wrapper is a 2-metre cloth cut out of a bigger roll of African wax print.
Throughout this month of May, I will be sharing my love for African fashion and style. Mostly sharing styling inspiration on how you can incorporate the prints into your everyday style as well as tips and hacks on wearing African pieces.
I love fashion and African wax print clothing is at the top of my list. However, the first African wax print material I ever owned was not an outfit, it was a 2-metre cloth called a wrapper or a Chitenje in Malawi (where I am from). It is also known as Kitenge in other parts of Africa. Closest equivalent is the Sarong..
I am writing about this piece of clothing because it is probably the most common amongst African women. Every woman in Malawi pretty much owns it.
Fact: African wax print has Dutch origins, it was first introduced to Africa in Ghana by Vlisco. From Ghana it spread to the rest of the continent and here we are today! The birth of Ankara Print!
1. Wrap Around The Waist
This is the most common use of the piece of cloth across the continent. Women wear them around their waist as part of an outfit, over other clothes to keep them clean (for example if they are sitting on a dusty area) and generally accessorised. You can pretty much wear this item anywhere in Malawi, sometimes work even permits it.
2. Swaddle A Baby
Everyone in my family was once swaddled in an African wrapper – the wrapper has got to be one of the crucial items an African mother can own.
I remember during my childhood days, my friends and I would carry and babysit babies on our back. Of course we had help making sure the baby was tied securely onto our backs. Women across the continent still do this today. It generally makes it easier to multitask with a young child.
Bad hair days, fashion, religious, cultural or beliefs – African wax prints can be used to cover women’s hair – wholly or partly. These head wraps can be styled very fashionably or simple.
Checkout my YouTube tutorial for head wraps.
4. As A Towel
Those who do no have the luxury of owning a bath towel use this piece of clothing to dry themselves. It can also be used as a beach towel or replace a picnic blanket.
5. As Bedding
The unfortunate truth – some people in Africa cannot afford basic bedding. This cloth can be used as a blanket or bed sheet. For those who can afford standard bedding, an African wrapper or Chitenje can be used to decorate the bed.
6. As Storage Bag
This reminds me of my mother who more than once told us she used to carry her clothes and books on her way to boarding school on a Chitenje because her father at the time could not afford a suitcase for her. This is still true this very day – there are people who can not afford a school bag, a suitcase or a wardrobe to store their clothes. Instead they use a Chitenje to carry books on their back or head. Clothes are stored by neatly folding them, placing them in the middle of the wrapper and tying each corner of the cloth diagonally opposite the other to make a knot as seen below.