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You’ll find no shortage of things to admire when it comes to Cape Town culture. The city’s awash with many cultures from around the world and the country.

While most people wear western-style clothing most of the time, on Heritage Day in September, the bold step out in all their finery to celebrate their heritage.

These are the traditional outfits that add extra colour to this special day.

Complex Xhosa Dress Code

When you’re a Xhosa person, you really are what you wear. In Xhosa culture, your attire reflects your social standing or stage of life.

Xhosa clothing features lovely colourful prints and beadwork as well as animal skins. The ladies usually adorn themselves in traditional embroidered or printed fabrics, and married women wear a headscarf (iqhiya) in Xhosa tradition.

The final touches include blankets or embroidered capes worn around the shoulders.

Men may celebrate their traditional roles as hunters and warriors by wearing animal skins. On special occasions they wear a tunic with strings of beaded necklaces or embroidered skirts with a rectangular cloth worn over the left shoulder.

Zulu Outfits

If you’ve seen the movie, Zulu Dawn or Shaka King of the Zulus, you’re already aware of the traditional male dress of this proud culture. Animal skins and feathers feature heavily in traditional Zulu warfaring attire, but leopard skin is reserved for royalty.   

Women also dress according to their age in Zulu culture. Single young women wear only a short skirt made of grass and reeds and embellished with beads, while engaged women cover their breasts. Married women cover up completely, wearing a thick cowhide skirt, and cotton vests or beaded bikini tops.

Married women also wear the iconic circular hats called izicolo, made of grass and cotton.

The Artistic Ndebele

Ndebele people are famed for their brightly painted homes boasting geometric designs. The ladies usually wear an apron, and thick beaded hoops around their necks, legs, arms, and waist.

As women age, their aprons get longer and while unmarried women don’t usually cover their breasts, married women wear multi-coloured blankets around their shoulders.  

Ndebele men also wear aprons made of animal skins as well as beaded breastplates (iporiyana) given to them by their father as a rite of passage. They also wear a cape and animal skin headbands and anklebands.

The Venda Nwenda

Venda girls also wear aprons, but they add a nwenda, which is a large piece of striped fabric in bright colours that passes over one shoulder accompanied by beaded headbands, necklaces, and bangles

Venda males wear a tsindi, which is a triangular animal skin loincloth, with a cloak over their shoulders when it’s cold. Some Venda men wear nwenda fabric shirts as part of their every day attire.

Tsonga (Shangaan)

The Tsonga-Shangaan people were once part of the Zulu tribe and wear similar animal-skin outfits. The ladies love colourful beads and braided skirts called xibelani.

Indian Traditional Garb

Some Indian South Africans wear traditional attire all the time, but most have adopted Western wear. Their beautifully printed and beaded saris and sherwanis are unmissable. On special occasions, these traditional outfits become even more glamorous and elaborate.

Cape Malay Community

Most Cape Malay people belong to the Muslim faith and wear their traditional attire on special occasions or when they attend mosque. These outfits include headscarves for the women as well as conservative flowing dresses. The men may wear traditional tunics.

Make sure you get a chance to experience the wonderful cuisine of these people while you’re in the city, or enjoy a cooking tour in the Bo-Kaap and learn to make it yourself.

Enjoy Cape Town Culture

No matter what time of the year you decide to visit, you can enjoy a snippet of Cape Town culture at any of the museums dedicated to the city’s diversity, or on tours of traditional villages nearby.

The best way by far to experience Cape Town’s multicultural nature is by immersing yourself in these various cultures. Book your self-catering accommodation with us and start planning an eye-opening cultural showcase.

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