Until a couple of years back, issues of fashion in Uganda were only a preserve for women.
Times, however, have since changed. Today, pundits say men’s fashion in Uganda is experiencing a serious wave.
More than ever, Ugandan men are increasingly becoming picky with what they wear. Some have gone on to create a trademark. Whether it’s the outright comical chequered pants for Master Blaster or Douglas ‘Katogo’ Lwanga’s bright colours, Ugandan men are surely making a fashion statement.
But the question is: where do they pick their styles from? The Observer thus set out to discover what inspires men’s fashion in Uganda. We randomly talked to men and fashion designers who shared their stories about the factors that inspire them to dress the way they do.
Top on the list is the influence of international celebrities. Ugandans may not have reached the extent of worshipping movie stars and musicians – like some overzealous Americans do – but there’s certainly no doubt that we are adopting the stars’ fashion tastes.
Take for instance city socialite and Urban TV’s Fashionista show host, Mosha Muyanja. Now a celebrity in his own right, Muyanja rocks the Kampala social scene with his signature nerdy glasses, thin-lapelled suits and crotch-hugging jeans, a style he says he copied from American artistes.
“I am mostly inspired by the formidable Kanye West, Swizz Beatz and Jay Z,” a beaming Muyanja told us in a previous interview, adding that the casual smart look does it for him.
Muyanja further acknowledged that his ‘exotic’ style at times raises eyebrows from especially senior citizens but adds that he feels young and sexy while dressed like that.
“You would hate to wear something that isn’t comfortable because people would easily notice,” he says. “I would love to inspire people and change their lives with my kind of fashion.”
To complete his celebrity-look, Muyanja gyms just so he can acquire footballer David Beckham’s abs. And Muyanja is not alone. Another seminal Ugandan who is into fashion, Brian Ahumuza of Abrynz Collection, also says he is inspired by Hollywood stars. “I only sell the latest in men’s fashion. I bring Hollywood to Kampala,”
Ahumuza says in reference to his shop, which has become famous with local celebrities. Ahumuza, who says he idolises entertainers and their dress codes, is a sharp dresser himself.
His signature trench coats, blazers, V-neck T-shirts and Esquire footwear give him a close resemblance to his favourite American stars, Trey Songz and Chris Brown.
And like Muyanja, Ahumuza’s style is steadily infiltrating the streets of Kampala and beyond. His Facebook page is filled with admiration messages from the youth and local celebrities.
Women in our lives
Women too are increasingly helping their men cope with fashion trends. Take the example of Kyadondo East MP Hajji Ibrahim Semujju whose dress code has drastically changed ever since he joined Parliament.
“She buys most of my clothes. My job is to just wear,” Semujju says of his wife. “She knows the perfect colour, size and material for me,” he brags.
Yet Semujju was not a sharp dresser in his heyday as a prolific political reporter with The (Daily) Monitor. Colleagues recall he favoured jeans, short-sleeved shirts and trainers. But his legislative job has since taken a toll on him.
“My job requires me to dress in suits though they are not my best style. But I am slowly adapting with the help of my wife,” Semujju says, explaining that some of his old friends are uncomfortable with his new bureaucratic look.
Moses Mugisha, a lawyer, on the other hand, says his profession dictates that he dresses in his trademark dark slim-fit suits, most of which cost him over Shs 1m each. And he says he likes it that way.
“People compliment me whenever I wear my suits. In fact girls hit on me and I don’t think that would be the case if I dressed casually in jeans and T-shirts,” Mugisha reckons.
Culture and the socio-economic status of individuals also influences how some men dress up—the reason why Gen Elly Tumwine, for instance, favours his African prints.
“I have been dressing up like this since I was in P.1 because I wanted to show my true identity as an African,” Tumwiine says, scoffing at men who still wear the traditional colonial attire of suits and ties.
An artist by profession, the former army commander now designs his own attire. He says he finds trouble convincing some of his colleagues to dress like him as they consider his style ‘backward and not cool’.
The power of the media also extends to the wardrobe. With the growth in cable TV and the internet, Ugandan men have been able to keep track of their favourite personalities and designers whom they strive to emulate.
Price or necessity?
Other men we spoke to say their economic status decides what they wear. Daniel Mawa, for instance, told us he goes for the cheapest clothes since that are what he can afford. “I don’t care about fashion and style. All I need is something to cover my body and feet,” he summed up.
But pundits say the price tag should never be used as an issue for looking untidy. Anything that accentuates your looks and makes you comfortable is fashionable, they say.