The Iro and Buba is a typical traditional clothing for the Yoruba women, south-west of Nigeria. Over the years, it has evolved from the traditional alluring styles to stunningly beautiful modern modifications popularly called “oleku”. This inviting fashion trend has become quite conspicuous at various occasions. Gabriel Ifinnwa writes.
Any foreigner, especially from the West, visiting Nigeria will be struck by the richness and elegance of Nigerian fashion culture. We are blessed with unique and attractive attires, and we dress to show the aesthetics, be it birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals, and so many more. At one point in time, the iro and buba was mainly a wear for the matured women, especially in south-west, Nigeria. For the youths and teenagers then, iro and buba was not fashionable and was therefore not in vogue among these groups. The young ladies in a bid to create a smart fashionable wear which will be acceptable to their age group came out with a design called “Oleku”. Today, oleku has become a fashion trend.
Oleku is a Yoruba word, which in English means something “too hot”. Though there are different interpretations to its meaning, “oleku” describes an alluring fashion style. It was quite trendy then in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and even early 1980s, to see matured women tie their wrappers,(which is called the ‘iro’) round their waist, which normally extends to their ankle, with a long sleeve blouse called ‘buba’ to match. The “iro” is most times fastened with a sort of rope or girdle to ensure it does not loosen. But nowadays, the fashion trend has undergone some alterations with the “iro” (wrapper) more like a shorter updated version of the 70’s. Now it is above the knees, with shorter sleeves and this fashion trend has become conspicuous at various occasions.
Iro and Buba is a timeless piece worn by all class of people in the society be it high, middle or low in class. At various occasions you will find that the updated 70′s look of the oleku is trending. Usually of the same fabric or a combination of Lace and Aso oke, the oleku has brought out the Nigerian cultural style. It is more like everyday attire for many, which for some resonates time immemorial.
For Mrs Tajudeen Oluremi, a businesswoman, she said that “The iro and buba trend is as old as time immemorial. The difference we have is that the oleku is with a shorter sleeve, and it’s either the round neck or the four corners. I have fond memories of my mother dressed in the typical Ankara traditional iro and buba. But, people would rather go for the modern trend nowadays because, it is stylish to them”.
Another respondent Abigail, a market trader said that “Nowadays, wearing oleku is a feature of traditional ceremonies and special occasions”. According to her, “If you want to go out for any ceremony today, you will discover that people with the oleku style will stand-out, whether it is the lace or the aso-oke. Some people even add their own styles as they use French lace for the top and Ankara for the wrapper, while others use a different material for the top altogether. It makes people look a lot more elegant and comfortable’’
What is most interesting is that whether you are using the Aso-oke or the lace, you can play around with colours, or prints to create that funky stylish look that you want.
It is of note that the younger age women tend towards western modern styles for their traditional fabrics these days leaving the traditional ‘Iro and Buba’ as we know it to the older women folk. Some young fashionistas would rather ask their stylist to design for them the updated oleku version.
Apart from being a trending fashion style, they are of the view that it is very comfortable. They believe that with the short-handed iro and buba, you get to move freely.
Ms Nkechi Uti, a part time undergraduate at the University of Lagos said “I like to play around with my style. And apart from oleku being the identity of people especially the young age, you will discover that it is very comfortable and gives that elegant outlook. And I just want to go with the fashion trend of the new age”. She added.
Mrs Idowu Adeyemi, a fashion designer at Alade market admits that there are different styles. “There is ‘buba isale’ and ‘buba blouse’ and of course the oleku, which is trending”. She confirmed that initially, it was not called oleku. It was known originally as “ominimirin”. “People who attend occasions are the ones you normally see wearing the oleku. They will be seen wearing the “bugi-bugi” shoe otherwise called “gbemi ga”. Nowadays, with the oleku trend, both the old and the young are the ones wearing this style. They beautify it now and then, sow a smaller neck and put on beads…”
Though times are changing in Nigeria, shifting with the whims of society and fashion, it seems the updated oleku trend have come to stay. Some fashion conscious people would not bulge, as they would rather go as far as getting an expensive lace or material to have their fashion taste fulfilled by their stylist be it young or old.
Mrs. Afisat Balogun another fashion designer at Alade Market, who has being in the business since 1972 is of the view that “Nowadays some people would use a lace as much as N150 thousand to design the oleku style… Even people who are getting married would want to have one designed for them”.
On the cost to make a design she said “It is not that expensive to design one, as an oleku can go for between N1000 to N2000 naira depending on the style and circumstances…”
Should you want to go out for that occasion and you want to make that fashion statement, maybe the chic elegance of “oleku” might just be the right choice for you.