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Nigerian Women Gele Styles

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Updated on January 14, 2020

What Is Gele?

In the Western Region of Nigeria, women can often be seen in their traditional attire of “Buba“, an airy type blouse with long sleeve, and “Iro” the wrapper that’s tied on top of the buba. To complete this whole attire, a woman will wear a head wrap (usually in matching fabric). This headwrap is known as ‘Gele‘.

Gele (pronounced gay_lay) is a Yoruba term for a woman’s head wrap. This piece of clothing can be as simple as a scarf-like head-tie or bandana, to being as elaborate as the arched train of a peacock. A very sophisticated gele is usually spurned from a fabric made specifically for that purpose.

The Culture of the Gele

Though the wearing of Gele is common-place for women in the Nigerian Culture, the two cultures that are especially noted for wearing the Gele in both its casual and sophisticated form are the Yoruba and Igbo Culture. Yoruba women can always be seen at home, in the market, at church, and on special occasions, such as a wedding, birthday, and chieftaincy parties wearing some form of Gele as an accessory with their attire.

In the Ibo culture, the Gele is usually worn over George Wrapper and blouse. Thus, the gele has now become a fashion statement. In fact, to wear the traditional Yoruba buba and iro without a gele will be considered a fashion faux pas.

Types of Gele

Casual Gele: Gele comes in many different forms. The very casual ones are usually the ones made out of the same fabric as the outfit being worn. It can also be a regular polyester scarf or shawl that can sometimes be worn as a head-tie.

Couture Gele: These are Gele made for the fashion-conscious, the fashionistas of the Nigerian and other African culture. In this category are the Grand Swiss, Super Jubilee, and Hayes Gele. There’s even the Net Gele Head tie (a net-like, see-through fabric gele).

These are imported gele made with the African woman and culture in mind. They are usually made in Switzerland and come in both solid colors, with designs or embroideries.

Custom-Made Gele—Gele Aso-Oke

These are Geles that are made especially for special occasions, such as traditional weddings, milestone birthday, chieftaincy title celebrations, and other special occasion celebrations. Custom-made Geles are usually made with of Aso-Oke, a woven fabric spurned by hand or machine on demand.

Custom made aso-oke geles are made to the specification of the buyer. The design, fabric consistency and color are followed in detail. The result is usually a blend of colorful prints and patterns. These colorful print fabrics are then used to make the Gele and Shawl (that drapes over the shoulder, or around the waist), or into the complete outfit which consists of the Gele, Shawl, Buba, and Wrapper. The price of a custom-made gele is usually more than a casual gele.

Bling Gele: Accessorizing the Gele

As mentioned earlier, a common way to wear Gele is as an accessory over either the Yoruba style Buba and the Iro, or the Igbo style George (Up and Down) traditional outfit. In our contemporary time, modern Nigerian women have found countless new ways to accessorize the Gele itself. The newest trend is to add as much bling to the gele as it can take. This is called Bling Gele.

Bling Gele is becoming popular among fashionistas who want to take wearing the Gele to another level. To bling the Gele, precious stones, beads, rhinestones, and sometimes silk flowers can be added to the Gele for a more glamorous appeal. Such Gele helps to set one apart where one is the celebrant of a special occasion, such as a wedding, wedding anniversary, or a milestone birthday celebration.

Bling Gele is gradually catching on as the design is currently available on High Metallic Net Shimmery Gele. These types gele are adorned with a layer of quality rhinestone trim, usually on the edge of the Gele. A pair (Gele & Ipele – Shawl) of these could cost anywhere from $100 to $120 USD. Bling Gele will add that needed sparkle to your special occasion.

Gele Styles: That Was Then, This Is Now

The wearing of Gele by most African culture and by Nigerian women is not a new fad. Nigerian women have been donning the Gele as an accessory that completes the traditional attires since pre-colonial times. Today, the Gele continues to emerge in designs, styles and uses.

It used to be that the Gele was only worn with either the Buba‘ and ‘Iro‘ (the Yoruba woman traditional attire), or, the Igbo woman’s ‘George Wrapper and Blouse‘. Not any more! Gele is no longer just for Buba and Iro.

Today, you can see the Gele being donned on all types of attire, such as skirt suits, pantsuits, and cocktail dresses. The possibilities are endless as the uses of the Gele is still emerging.

The ‘Gele’ Dilemma

The ability to tie the Gele is one of the problems faced by most Nigerian women. Tying the Gele is an art in itself. It takes great patience and precision. I remember as a child always watching my mom tie the Gele for a special occasion and wondering, ‘what in the world…?’ Now I find myself doing the same, getting frustrated over tying my gele, because sometimes it just takes forever.

But, I seem to have found just the secret to tying the Gele in less time than most Nigerian women would. Don’t ask me to tell you how long it takes. Let’s just say, I pre-tie my Geles weeks, and sometimes months ahead of the special event. So all I do is just put it on like a hat whenever It’s needed.

For a lot of women, the time it takes to tie the Gele is a deterrent to wearing this essential part of the cultural attire as it can take from half an hour to hours just to get it right. This can sometimes be a frustrating process. Thus, most Nigerian women have abandoned wearing the Gele altogether.

One Nigerian man, who is well skilled in the art of tying the Gele, noticed this trend of not wearing the Gele among Nigerian women. His name is Segun Gele. One day, on location at one Nigerian Wedding, an opportunity presented itself, and he sprung into action, tying the Geles of many invited guests for a price. Now, he makes a living doing this at Nigerian gatherings and special occasions here in the USA. (See him at work in the video below).

Auto-Gele: Gele Made Easy

Though Segun Gele was instrumental in making the tying of gele popular again, even better is the invention of the now very popular Auto-gele. I don’t really know who gets the credit for this very clever invention. One thing is sure, Auto-gele is taking the Internet by storm.

Auto-geles are a new wave of gele styles that are born out of the necessity to have the experience of wearing the complete traditional outfit without the stress associated with tying the traditional gele. Auto-geles are pre-tied, usually held in place with Velcro or pieces of the gele fabric and set in the form of a hat. This makes it easy to wear and remove while retaining the shape of the gele.

Auto-gele makes tying gele a breeze. It only takes minutes to put on and take off. No need for countless trials and errors.

© 2012 Comfort Babatola

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