Shweshwe Traditional Dresses

Shweshwe traditional dresses are widely recognised as a sign of tradition and ethnic pride in South Africa, which is why Shweshwe designs are the most popular choice among African designers.

If you’ve ever been to a Traditional African wedding or an event that was primarily inspired by African clothing, you know that colour, spectacle, and pageantry are key elements of South African attire. Explore dresses below👇🏾

There are several alternatives to select from, but the Shweshwe Dress is still the finest alternative across all of South Africa’s nine cultures. In fact, many brides still choose to wear makoti Shweshwe dresses ahead of their tribal attire on their wedding day.

Shweshwe traditional dresses are quite trendy, yet traditional at the same time. It’s both stylish and dressy without being overwhelming. They also work very well for special occasions.

shweshwe style
Colourful Shweshwe Dress

Types of Shweshwe Traditional Dresses

This wax cotton fabric is available in a range of colours, including brown, crimson and the classic indigo. Below you’ll find pictures of Shweshwe traditional dresses in all of these colours.

blue shweshwe dress
Blue Shweshwe Dress
shweshwe traditional dresses in green
Green Shweshwe Dress
classic blue shweshwe dress
Classic Blue Shweshwe
shweshwe traditional dresses
Diagonal Shoulder Strap
blue with stripes shweshwe traditional dresses
Blue with Stripes
shweshwe traditional dresses in red
Shweshwe in Regal Red
blue and white shweshwe dress
Blue and White
patterned brown
Patterned Brown
sweswe traditional dresses
Modern Shweshwe Outfit
blue long shweshwe dress
Long Blue Dress

What is Shweshwe?

Shweshwe is a printed dyed cotton cloth that is commonly utilised for traditional Southern African attire. The fabric was originally dyed indigo and comes in a variety of colours and intricate geometric patterns. Shweshwe has been dubbed the denim, or tartan, of South Africa due to its popularity.

Origin of the Name

The local name is derived from the fabric’s connection with Lesotho’s King Moshoeshoe I, who was also known as “Moshweshwe.” The king was given the material by French missionaries in the 1840s and subsequently promoted it. This why they are also sometimes called sweswe traditional dresses.

In Southern African languages, it is also known as sesheshoeshoe, terantala (derived from Afrikaans tarentaal), and ujamani in Xhosa, after 19th century German and Swiss immigrants who brought the blaudruck (“blue print”) fabric for their clothing and assisted in the establishment of South African and Basotho culture.

shweshwe model
Shweshwe Model


Shweshwe is a traditional material from South Africa. It’s also been used to make dresses, skirts, aprons, and wrap-around clothing by the Xhosa people for centuries. Shweshwe apparel is historically worn by newly married Xhosa women known as makoti and Sotho women who are married.

The fabric’s bright colour and weaving pattern have made it popular among both men and women in South Africa. It is also used to make accessories and upholstery in contemporary South African fashion design for women and men from all ethnic groups, as well as quilting fabric in the United States.

Production of Shweshwe Traditional Dresses

Shweshwe is made of 100% pure cotton calico, which is then subjected to an acid discharge and roller printing processes. It’s printed in 90-centimeter widths, all-over designs, and A-shaped skirt sections that are side by side.

The cotton fabric is available in a range of colors, including the traditional indigo, chocolate brown and crimson. In the style of florals, stripes, and diamond, square and circular geometric patterns are included.

The intricate patterns are created with picotage, a pinning fabric printing method that is difficult and costly for modern textile producers to implement due to its complexity and cost, yet the impact has been duplicated using contemporary cloth printing methods.

The distinctive fabric has been woven in the Zwelitsha township outside King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape since 1982, after it was brought from Europe.

shweshwe fabrics
Shweshwe Fabrics

Da Gama Textiles acquired the worldwide rights to Three Cats in 1992, Spruce Manufacturing Company’s most famous fabric. The purchase included the original engraved copper rollers from Manchester.

Denim jeans and tops manufactured by Denim & Co. come from Zimbabwean cotton that has been imported and produced locally in the Eastern Cape.

The local textile industry, which includes Da Gama Textiles’ shweshwe manufacturing, is being negatively impacted by competition from cheaper low-quality imitations produced both locally and imported from China and Pakistan.

Genuine Shweshwe can be recognised by feel, aroma, taste, sound, and a distinct colour from dyeing and trademark symbols on the garment’s reverse side.

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