Cropped pants, ripped clothing, button-up shirts, big boots, strange hairstyle, dreadlocks, and Afros are some of the styles that are part of the new overwhelming street fashion scene of Addis.The presence of a multi-billion dollar fashion industry is non-existent in Addis; it’s the streets of the city that give a platform to what fashion is here.
Apart from the mainstream cultures of of short hair, jeans, suits and dresses, Addis streets give an alternative style. Like many other cities in the world, the urban community with a collective identity is influenced by the youth subculture. This subculture goes further than just outfits; it is a lifestyle that intersects with music, aesthetics, and more in order to use it as a form of expression.
The colorful sight is very interesting. So many cultures intersect and fuse at the same time. One cannot escape the scene of the heartbeat of Addis’ fashion bole street fashion.
The hippies, rockers (with rings, many piercings,) hipsters (glasses, jeans, beanies, sneakers, ties, suspenders), gothic fashion (black clothing, heavy coats, black makeup), preppy (argyle sweaters, chinos, madras, Nantucket red pants, boat shoes), colorful apparel, with many piercings are fused in the contrasting city of Addis.
Whether they are trying to make a statement with the outfits, accessories and hairstyles or not, the Bole neighborhood seems to be the area where fashion in mainstream and alternative forms exists.
“What do I wear today?” might be the phrase or a serious question for some, where outfits are more than outfits but rather a form of expression to pass a massage to others.
Do outfits express the lifestyle one wants to pass or is clothing just imitations of the media and the sub-culture from the different social media. The street fashionistas of Addis Ababa have their own things to say regarding that.
Walking around Bole, many pedestrians are very comfortable in talking about their fashion, music and the value of what their outfit is about.
With a jean jacket, black tights with safety pins, and a ponytail, Selam who is walking around Kenenisa Hotel was confused about why she was being asked about her outfits. For her, clothes are to be worn, nothing else, and when she buys them there is no overthinking, she just buys what she things looks good on her. Beauty seems to matter more than anything and she follows that trend.
Roaming around Bole, two girls, Kalkidan Zegeye and Marin Sirak, with the 90s style African American throwbacks are comfortably walking the streets.
With short brown military boots, an old school white sweater, ripped jeans, green eyeliner, pink lipstick and colored hair, outfits are an expression of one’s self for Kalkidan.. The question was: “What does your outfit say?” She replied “free, cool and funny.”
She does not just pick clothes; she looks for the different fashion magazines and Facebook pages to look for different outfits. That is why Kalkidan says “fashion is a way of life to express what you want to say.”
Her friend Marin Sirak was dressed in high waist leggings, a red old school sweater with writing on it, black timberland shoes, four rings, ear piercings and a watch.
Their friendship also seems to tune in to their interests, music and outfits, which is reminiscent of 90’s hip-hop culture and the music they listen to also revolves around that. For her, the way she was attired also makes a statement, “not too classy, enjoying freedom, looking comfortable, decent.”
With the particular tastes they have, they say it is difficult to get all the clothes and accessories they want since they want unique things, so relatives from America and their hostess friends bring it to them.
Committing to their hip-hop influence is not easy, sometimes it is taken as defiance, especially in the workplace. Marin is one of those who has to confront her colleagues for wearing what she chooses.
They claim they are the cool crows while giving clothes an aesthetic form. But the message they give off might not be decoded right and they are not scared of that. For them and for those who believe fashion is a statement there seems to be an urban community that understands the fashion in different aspects and also the cultural values it is passing.
Observing Addis with all its colorful hipsters, punks, preppies, and Rasta elements, Tsige Tafesse, New York-based artist is amused. Tsige usually puts static narratives to her attire beginning with Doc Martin boots and ending with as many colors and patterns that she can put together before they clash. But never without the Ethiopian neck crosses.
Fashion, as she describes it, is “self expression the way one wants to present themselves to the world. It can also mean a form of identity creation, identity affirmation,” which makes her excited to see people fully committed and with such an enthusiastic approach to fashion.
The streets give a platform for any kind of outfit, one wants to wear and she talks about her first introduction to the street fashion “at first what really struck me about Addis fashion is the infusion of African iconography, Ethiopian and also black American aesthetics and how they are all infused together.”
With the rise of the urban youth collective identity, everywhere in the world is also a depreciation of an interest for those multi-million dollar companies that spend a lot of money with trending and outfits based on the different seasons. These outfits for Tsige are a specific assigned aesthetics.
“It feels like Addis fashion is seasonless. People are creating with what they have and whatever they want.”
Related to most of the aesthetics is music and the music element is passing collectively.
Within these she also witnessed a feeling of the sameness everywhere, which is creating an urban collective identity, which is youth-culture based.
“The similarity is everywhere where we have connected where we have never been before. It is not like dictating from one point but rather the influence is from everywhere, “ comments Tsige.
The mainstream popular companies also started to do the cultural appropriation by putting in an “African element” and trying to emulate the youth culture.
With technology and digitization around the globe, the self-expression and movement of this time seems to be influenced by each other.
Within these there are also many who don’t see fashion or outfits as a lifestyle but rather to make a political statement such as dreadlocks being associated with the history of slavery and nature, where defying the concept of Euro-centric thinking of straightening hair.
For Tsige fashion is a claiming of identities with a statement, clothing which she says
“I want them to express all my identities at once; Ethiopian-American, pan-Africanist, feminist, art maker, occasionally anarchist and other identities. With her attires she aligns with her community, which is used as a platform, which might lead to spark conversations which makes her say “we dress for our tribe.”
Dressing for the tribe seems to be a concept also for Kalkidan and Marin who claim they are part of the cool crowd. Walking in Bole, there were the two preppy sisters Mahlet Migora and Mihret Migora who came from Geneva for vacation.
Fashion being nostalgic and about the past for Mahlet, she was wearing her father’s button up big shirt tied around her waist and leggings. She says: “fashion is being yourself and also comfortable.”
The two sisters talk at the same time while with some questions being indifferent about it. They share the same interests, usually going to stores with vintage outlets.
Mihret, who is now a university student and who was a model for Annabel and Cosmopolitian for almost three years, is wearing Timberland shoes, open shirt on the chest, leggings and a glittering bag says: “It is about being easy and open minded.”
Addis is full of men with styles just as outlandish and styles that differ just as much as the women’s. Dawit, with nerdy glasses, cropped jeans and a very pleasant smile, says “freestyle” is what his style is about. With this style he takes his inspiration from music, dancehall and reggae, which are actually manifested in the outfit he is wearing.
Within these some of the professions are distinctive and easy to tell apart, for instance many of the individuals in the Ethiopian artist communities have dreadlock and try to connect everything with freedom. The jazz musician Cooky Gelete, 20, with an Afro-centric style says, jeans, converse shoes give her a calm and weird look.
Listening to jazz music, for her, her outfits go with the music. Doing things differently, being different and standing out from the scene.