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What Do Zulu Man Wear?

Quick Summary

Traditional Zulu clothing for men and women is rich in color, beadwork, and animal hides. Women wear vibrant skirts, adorned with beads and cow-hide accessories, while men don animal skin coverings and distinctive headdresses. Modern adaptations of Zulu clothing have also emerged, influenced by Western fashion. This blog post explores the various aspects of traditional Zulu attire, including clothing for different age groups and marital statuses, headdresses, ornaments, and frequently asked questions about Zulu dress.


The Zulu people of South Africa have a rich cultural heritage, and traditional clothing plays an important role in their identity. Both men and women wear distinct attire that reflects their age, marital status, and social standing within the community. In this blog post, we will explore the fascinating world of Zulu fashion for men.

Zulu Men’s Traditional Clothing

Traditional Zulu clothing for men is characterized by its use of animal hides and vibrant accessories. The garments are not only functional but also hold symbolic meaning within the culture.

Clothing for Boys

Young boys typically wear smaller coverings called “iqoyi” made from animal hide as part of their traditional dress. These coverings serve to introduce them to male adulthood while still maintaining some elements of childhood.

Clothing for Married Men

Married men enjoy special status within the community, which is reflected in their distinctive attire. They don a front covering known as “umutsha,” usually made from ox hide or other materials like wild beast skin at times adorned with beads or decorative patterns representing personal achievements or family lineage.

Back Covering – Ibheshu

One prominent feature worn by married Zulu men is an apron-like back covering called “ibheshu.” This garment provides modesty while adding flair to their overall appearance during ceremonial events such as weddings or ancestral rituals.

Headgear – Isicoco

A significant aspect of Zulu menswear includes head adornments symbolizing manhood and respectability among peers. The most notable one being ‘isicoco,’ a circular patch on top where they shave off hair leaving wool about four inches wide. This ring-shaped gum-and-charcoal accessory can rise up to six inches high. Its significance lies in it signifying maturity, responsibility, and authority amongst fellow tribesmen.

Accessories & Battle Dress

In addition to these main pieces, Zulus often accessorize themselves using various items including arm and ankle bands made of animal hide, necklaces with beads or brass rings, and feathers worn on their heads. These accessories add a touch of personal style to the overall ensemble. During times of battle, Zulu warriors would wear specific attire known as “ihawu.” This included shields called ‘isihlangu’ and arm/ankle bands for protection. These items were not only functional but also served as symbols of bravery and strength.

Modern Adaptations

While traditional Zulu clothing remains an integral part of cultural celebrations and ceremonies, modern adaptations have emerged over time. Influences from Western fashion can be seen in the form of pants adorned with decorative patches referred to as “umbhulaselo”. These contemporary variations allow individuals to express their heritage while embracing current trends.

Zulu men’s traditional dress is a testament to the rich history and vibrant culture that defines this community. From distinctive coverings like umutsha and ibheshu, to symbolic headgear such as isicoco, the attire reflects both individual identity within society. The use of various ornaments adds flair to these ensembles, making them truly unique expressions of fashion rooted deeply in tradition.

Traditional Zulu Clothing for Women

Clothing for Unmarried Girls

In Zulu culture, traditional clothing holds great significance. For unmarried girls, known as intombi, their attire reflects their youthful status and vibrant energy. They typically wear a short skirt made of grass or beaded cotton strings that showcase intricate patterns and colors. It is common to see them adorned with long strips of twisted beads called “izincu” around their ankles, elbows, and waists. Additionally, young girls often wear colorful necklaces and beaded headbands to complete their ensemble.

Clothing for Engaged Women

When a woman becomes engaged in the Zulu community, her appearance undergoes some changes as she prepares herself to join her future family respectfully. One notable change is letting her hair grow out while covering her breasts with a decorative cloth or shawl-like garment called “isidwaba.” This signifies respect towards the elders within the prospective groom’s family.

Clothing for Married Women

Married women have distinct clothing styles that set them apart from other groups within the community. Their outfits are characterized by modesty and elegance while showcasing cultural traditions passed down through generations. A knee-length cowhide skirt forms an essential part of married women’s attire; it symbolizes maturity and marital status among Zulus. To complement this skirt piece effectively, a cloth decorated with reds, whites, and blacks may drape over one shoulder. Beads play an integral role in adorning married women’s ensembles – they can be seen wearing necklaces referred to as “ureyisi.” Additionally, to show reverence toward their new families after marriage ceremonies (known as umabo), these women will also don hats called “izicolo,” traditionally crafted using grass intertwined with red or white cotton thread.

Clothing for Pregnant Women

Pregnancy brings about unique considerations when it comes to Zulu women’s traditional clothing. To support their growing bellies, pregnant women wear a thick belt made from dried grass called “isibamba.” This practical accessory provides comfort and stability during this special time in their lives.

Note: The content provided is based on the information gathered from external sources and may require further review or editing for publication purposes.

Traditional Zulu Clothing for Men

Clothing for Boys

In traditional Zulu culture, boys have their own distinct clothing styles. They typically wear a small covering called “iqoyi” made from animal hides. This front covering is smaller compared to the ones worn by married men and serves as an introduction to male attire. Additionally, young boys may also wear arm and ankle bands made of animal hide.

Clothing for Married Men

Married Zulu men have specific clothing that distinguishes them from unmarried boys. The main garment they wear is called “umutsha,” which is a larger front covering made from different types of animal hides such as cowhide or goatskin. It hangs down in the front and provides modesty while still allowing freedom of movement.

Another important element of traditional Zulu dress for married men is the back covering known as “ibheshu.” Made primarily with calf-skin, this apron-like piece covers their buttocks and can vary in length depending on age and activities.

To complete their ensemble, married men often adorn themselves with accessories like head-rings called “isicoco” around their shaved heads (leaving only a circular patch about four inches in diameter). They also wear necklaces crafted out of circular cowhide skins known as “imbhata.”

Clothing for Chiefs and Royals

Chiefs, royals, generals, and other individuals holding high positions within society are entitled to additional regalia when it comes to traditional Zulu clothing. One notable item reserved exclusively for these esteemed figures is the leopard skin. The wearing of a leopard skin cloak is a symbol of prestige and power within the community. It signifies leadership and authority. These special garments are not worn by ordinary men but are specifically reserved for those with royal blood or high status in Zulu culture.

Zulu Headdress and Ornaments

Headdress for Married Men

In traditional Zulu culture, the headdress worn by married men is a significant aspect of their attire. The upper part of their heads is shaved, leaving a circular patch of wool about four inches in diameter. This patch serves as the base for attaching a ring made of gum and charcoal to create height. The size of the ring can rise up to six inches, symbolizing manhood and respectability.

Married men are fiercely protective of this headdress ornament known as “isicoco.” It holds great cultural significance within the community and represents an important status marker among fellow tribesmen.

Headdress for Married Women

Similar to married men, women also shave their heads but leave a topknot intact. They adorn this topknot with red ochre mixed with grease or rub it with red pigment instead if they choose not to shave completely.

The headdresses worn by married women vary depending on personal preference and regional customs within different clans. Some may attach blown-out bladders from birds or wildcats while others opt for intricate beadwork designs that reflect individual style choices.

These unique headpieces serve both decorative purposes as well as symbols representing marital status within Zulu society.

Ornaments for All Ages and Genders

Zulus across all ages embrace ornaments as an integral part of their traditional dress code. Necklaces crafted from vibrant beads are commonly seen adorning both males’ and females’ necks alike. The use of brass rings on arms and legs further adds flair to one’s appearance. Feathers play another prominent role when it comes to enhancing headwear aesthetics. Headbands adorned with feathers add vibrancy to hairstyles. Young boys often experiment with various shapes using butter, tallow, or oil to make their hair look shiny. Perfumes are used, especially before social gatherings. Infants have holes bored into their ears which are gradually enlarged to hold ivory knobs or reed snuffboxes. Women often bear raised scars on their arms and bosoms, made in infancy and filled with charcoal and ashes. On special occasions, both men and women adorn themselves with finery and brass buttons.

These ornaments not only enhance the visual appeal of traditional Zulu clothing but also hold cultural significance as symbols of identity, status, and personal expression within the community.

Modern Adaptations of Traditional Zulu Clothing

Westernized Versions of Zulu Clothing

In recent years, there has been a growing trend among the younger generation to incorporate elements of traditional Zulu clothing into modern fashion. This fusion between traditional and contemporary styles has resulted in unique and vibrant outfits that celebrate both heritage and individuality.

One popular adaptation is seen in the use of fabrics. While animal hides were traditionally used for clothing, many people now opt for colorful printed fabrics such as shweshwe or wax prints. These fabrics are often incorporated into dresses, skirts, shirts, and pants with intricate beadwork accents.

Another westernized version includes incorporating traditional patterns onto more modern silhouettes. For example, women may wear blouses or tops adorned with beaded motifs inspired by Zulu culture paired with jeans or tailored trousers. Men might choose to wear shirts featuring bold geometric designs reminiscent of tribal art along with khaki shorts or chinos.

Accessories also play a significant role in these adaptations. Instead of wearing full cowhide skirts like their ancestors did on special occasions, women may accessorize their outfits with belts made from beads instead – adding pops of color while still paying homage to tradition.

Overall, this blending allows individuals to express themselves creatively while maintaining a connection to their cultural roots.

Frequently Asked Questions

What materials are used to make traditional Zulu clothing?

Traditional Zulu clothing is made using a variety of natural materials. For women, the skirts can be made from pliable tanned leather or grass and beaded cotton strings. Married women often wear knee-length cowhide skirts adorned with red, white, black cloth, and beads. Pregnant women use thick belts made from dried grass called “isibamba” for support.

Are there any specific colors or patterns associated with Zulu clothing?

Zulu culture embraces vibrant colors in their traditional dress. Women’s garments feature colorful beadwork that adds intricate designs to their outfits while married men typically adorn themselves with brass rings on arms and legs along with feathers on their heads. Specific color combinations hold cultural significance within different clans; however bright hues like reds, whites, and blacks tend to dominate many pieces of Zulu apparel.

How do Zulu men and women accessorize their outfits?

Both genders in the Zulu culture enjoy adorning themselves with various accessories. Women frequently wear necklaces made of beads and bracelets around their wrists. They also don headbands or hats called izicolo. Married women wear larger hats while unmarried girls opt for smaller ones. Men traditionally wore head-rings known as “isicoco,” which are circular bands worn on the shaved part of the top of their heads. Additionally, circular cowhides such as imbhata may be worn around the neck to enhance their appearance. Feathers were also used to decorate the men’s headdresses.

Are there any specific occasions or events where traditional Zulu clothing is worn?

Traditional Zulu clothing holds great cultural significance and is often worn during important ceremonies, celebrations, and rituals. These may include weddings, coming-of-age ceremonies like the “umemulo,” funerals of respected community members, and other significant gatherings within the community.

How has Zulu clothing evolved over time?

Over time, Zulu clothing has undergone changes and adaptations. Influences from western fashion have led to the incorporation of modern styles and silhouettes in Zulu dress. Today, some people opt for a westernized version of traditional Zulu clothing which may include pants with decorative patches called “umbhulaselo.” However, the essence and cultural importance of traditional symbols, colorful beadwork, and animal hide are still preserved within the modified designs. Zulu society continues to honor their heritage by wearing traditional clothing on special occasions or when they wish to celebrate their culture’s rich history.


  1. https://www.vukuzenzele.gov.za/celebrating-our-heritage
  2. https://www.tota.world/article/3486/
  3. https://eshowe.com/traditional-zulu-clothing/

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