Wax Works


Skirt: Anna Devine

Belt: Modcloth

Shoes: Comfortview via One Stop Plus

I’m a huge fan of the bold, and brightly coloured wax prints that are so synonymous with the fashion of of West Africa. The incongruous and irreverent patterns really speak to me, and I’ve been delighted to watch them start to hit the mainstream market. Where the saturated bright colours and big prints might overwhelm slight figures, they seem to particularly suit bigger bodies which provide a larger canvas to play with.

I’ve been a bit too anxious about cultural appropriation, and aware of my own ignorance about the political and sociological history of Ankara, or wax printed fabrics, to wear it before now. I didn’t want to be the (mostly) white girl wearing something in ignorance, like the people wearing Native American head-dresses to music festivals.

I was at the Finders Keepers Market in Melbourne a few months ago, and came across Anna Devine‘s stall of beautiful wax print skirts. I was stopped in my tracks, and meandered over to have a little fondle. Anna overheard me telling my friend why I couldn’t wear the prints, and she told me the revelationary news that “African” wax printed fabric is actually considerably more global than that.

The leading manufacturer of Ankara fabric is Vlisco, a Dutch company that started producing wax print fabrics in 1846, after being inspired by the Indonesian Batik brought back to Holland by the Dutch East India Trading Company. There’s a fascinating article on Slate about the history if you’re interested in reading more.

The fabrics usually have names – this one is called “Record” – most with stories behind them, which you can read on the Vlisco website (I got a giggle out of “You Fly, I Fly” which depicts a bird escaping an open cageย  and is worn by newlywed women as a warning to their husbands!).

The skirt is very full, and the fabric is quite stiff, but I believe it softens with repeated wears and washes. It’s 100% cotton, and gorgeously bright. In all honesty I had a little trouble finding something to wear it with – Anna suggests a plain black tee, and I’ve often see the bold prints paired successfully with crisp white shirts, too. This plummy roll-sleeve t-shirt from Miss Shop works fine.

I was so glad to discover I could wear the big bold prints of Ankara fabric without offending anyone’s culture, or treading on anyone’s toes. I’ve since bought a second skirt (from Prodigal Daughter in Canberra) and I’ve got my eye on a few other pieces I’ve seen around the traps.


19 thoughts on “Wax Works

    1. Thanks Emma! I’ll have to try it with one of my blouses – I think it’d have to be a fairly slim fit blouse (which I struggle a bit with because of boobs), otherwise it’s all volume and more volume! In my head that combo looks amazing though ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Oh, I’ll have to check Jacqui’s wares out at Rose St one day! Thanks for the link Chel ๐Ÿ™‚
      I haven’t actually washed it yet, but Anna says that Vlisco fabric is usually pretty colourfast.. My machine only does cold washes anyway, so hopefully I’ll be OK!

  1. Oh hey ! I love this outfit ! I am pretty sure you know that my middle name is Wax right ?

    I like to see Wax worn with non african people. It’s all about style and you are rocking it very well !

    1. Gaelle, that dress that you designed with the amazing ruff for FFFWeek in 2013 just made me drool. You pull of wax much better than me, but I’m glad you like to see it worn by different ethnicities ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Ah, Lilli, thatโ€™s a beautiful skirt! I am crazy about these prints as well. I lived in Ghana for a year at some point and go back every year, so I now own about a dozen dresses and a stash of fabrics waiting to be sewn โ€“ both wax print cloth and batik. Just like you, I wondered if it would be appropriate to wear these fabrics and what brands to choose. I decided to buy Ghanaian made only, not Dutch or Chinese. That said, Ghanaian companies are also mainly foreign-owned. Vlisco is too expensive for most people in Ghana.

    The dresses I had made by the seamstresses in Ghana cost a total of about 15 to 20 dollars each, and I love all of them. I also recommend Global Mamas, a fair trade company that caters mainly for tourists and office workers (unfortunately, just a small selection of their clothes are available online) and Afrochic, that sometimes downplays the โ€œtraditionalโ€, as it aims at the office workers (new site under construction; hopefully they will soon deliver more widely).

    The fabrics might bleed initially, and the cotton will soften after a wash or two. My favourite dress is entering its sixth year, has been worn lots, and still has a lot of life in it, even though the fabric, while not discoloured-looking, now has mellower tones.

    1. Some great resources there, Raluca – thank you so much! I’ll keep my eyes peeled for the Afrochic website launch, I like the fusion of traditional wax print cloth, with contemporary styles. Good advice on the cotton and bleed, I was a bit nervous about the first wash for this skirt, because I didn’t want the colours to muddy, but it sounds like I shouldn’t be too worried ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Hi Lillli! I’m so glad you like the skirt and it looks fabulous on you. The t-shirt is a great pairing. I saw your friend at Rose St today and she said you had just blogged about it so had to check it out – you look gorgeous.

    Yes, it does soften with wear and washes and is colour fastness is largely dependent on the manufacturer and quality. Ankara made in China tends to bleed more than Vlisco, but a good bleed (wash it in hot or boiling water before use) helps a lot.

    I hope you get lots of wear from this skirt!


  4. Gah! This skirt totally undid my resolution to not buy any clothes for 3 months. I love the skirt and even wore it to Hobart during the Wooden Boat Festival with a bright pink Bonds singlet top – the colours and the look garnered a lot of favourable comments. Thanks!

  5. Oh that’s a beautiful skirt!
    I was tempted to use these fabrics for my dresses, but I had the same thoughts/objections.
    So thank you for this post, I hope to finally make something of them, the most difficult thing now is to choose the pattern.

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