Oleku, the Recreated Iro and Buba

Iro and Buba worn by mature women in South West Nigeria between early fifties and eighties has been transformed into Oleku, which is the fashion in vogue

|  By Chinwe Okafor  |  21, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

IT WAS quite trendy in the 50s, 60s, 70s and the early 80s, to see mothers, aunties and other mature women, especially in south-west Nigeria, to wear wrappers called iro. The wrappers which were tied around their waist normally extended to their ankle, with a long-sleeves blouse called buba to match. At that time, the iro and buba was seen mainly as a wear for only the mature women, and so youths and teenage girls didn’t consider it fashionable and therefore it was not popular among the youths.

Asoebi ladies rocking the Oleku style
Asoebi ladies rocking the Oleku style

But in recent times, iro and buba has become fashionable among the young ladies. Some creative alterations have been made on the iro and buba to give it a beautiful modern fashion, thus giving way to oleku, the new name. Today, oleku has become a fashion trend that has come back with a fresh twist. This time, it isn’t just about the short sleeves and short wrappers only. Nigerian fashion designers have also played around it, mixing and blending complimentary prints and colours, like matching an ordinary or French lace buba with an ankara wrapper; adire buba with damask or aso-oke wrapper.

Vivian Ikechukwu, a businesswoman, said that the iro and buba is a timeless piece worn by all class of people in the society be it high, middle or the low class. She said that on various occasions, one will see that the updated 70′s look of the oleku is trending. “The oleku style has brought out the Nigerian cultural style and it’s more like everyday attire for many which, for some, resonates time immemorial. The iro and buba trend is as old as time immemorial. The difference between the recent and the olden design 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.”

According to her, people now go for the oleku style because, it is stylish compared to the old ones. Nowadays, wearing oleku is a feature of traditional ceremonies and special occasions. She continued, “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,” she said.

Children are not exempted from wearing the trendy Oleku
Children are not exempted from wearing the trendy Oleku

Some young fashion followers would rather ask their stylists to design for them the updated oleku version because, apart from being a trending fashion style, some ladies are of the view that it is very comfortable. They believe that with the short-sleeves iro and buba, you get to move freely. Ekene Omanukwue, who works in a private firm, said: “I like to play around with my style and move freely with whatever dress I’m wearing. I like the design because I am very comfortable wearing it and it also gives me that elegant outlook. I just want to go with the fashion trend of the new age.”

Vivian Udeh, a fashion designer, said that with the oleku trend, both the old and the young are the ones wearing the style. They beautify it now and then, sew a smaller neck and put on beads. She said that though times are changing in Nigeria, shifting with the whims of the society and fashion, it seems the updated oleku trend has come to stay. “Some fashion conscious people would not budge, as they would rather go as far as getting an expensive lace or material to have their fashion taste fulfilled by their stylists be it young or old. Some people would use a lace cloth that cost as much as N150, 000 to design the oleku style and even people who are getting married would want to have one designed for them.”

She said that it is not that expensive to design one, as an oleku can go for between N3, 000 and N5, 000 and even more depending on the style and circumstances. Iro and buba is now a common traditional fashion for Nigerian women. For instance, in Yoruba land, history has it that iro and buba, has been passed from one generation to another till date. The iro is also a shorter updated version of the 70s, as it is now above the knees. In order to complete the look, most ladies compliment it with a head gear traditionally known as gele, which is creatively tied on their heads.

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