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Ankara Dress Styles You Can Check Out (All Kinds)

In modern fashion trends, ankara print has become synonymous with African fashion and it has exploded on the western style scene in a big, big way. But while this colorful print feels totally trendy and new to style watchers in the western world, Ankara dress styles have actually been around for a long, long time. Look back at where this fabric came from, what ankara style means and why it’s suddenly the must-have style item for all fashionistas out there. When you find out how many options you have to get your own ankara gown, you may consider slipping into the latest ankara style yourself.

Ankara dress style

What is Ankara Fabric?

Ankara is a print fabric that is recognizable for its colorful, bold graphic patterns. It’s made to be eye-catching. Various motifs are used to create the print, though geometric designs and designs based on natural elements, such as leaves and flowers, are common. Ankara print fabric is associated with traditional African dress styles but the truth is, ankara fashion comes from a mishmash of history and other locations outside of the African continent. Every time you look at the latest ankara gown styles, you’re looking at a long and interesting fashion history.

History of Ankara Fabric

Today, ankara is definitely thought of as an African fabric and it has certainly been adopted by the continent as such, but its origins are a little less straightforward.

The history of ankara fabric is the history of African style and the surrounding area itself. Java, now a part of Indonesia, was colonized by the Dutch during the Colonial Era of the 17th and 18th centuries. The British ultimately took control of the island, wresting it away from the Dutch. At that time, British colonizers noticed the batik fabric that was popular in the reason. This fabric took 17 days to make through a labor-intensive process. They used wax-resistant techniques to create elaborate and colorful patterns on the cloth.

One Englishman sent samples of the fabric back to the United Kingdom, challenging textile makers to see if they could find a simpler way to create the material. The print fabric became popular as different manufacturers experimented with creating their own version of this traditional material. Who knew that the African print dress you’ve been eying isn’t really all that African after all?

Through a treaty, the Dutch eventually regained control of Java and the fabrics made there. They did indeed learn new ways to make the fabric and introduced it to the world. Today, this has become a hugely popular look that is found in many different dress styles and other clothing as well. Manufacturers creating ankara fabric are now sold around the world. 

Bolt ankara dress fabric

However, the history of fabric dates back many generations before all this. Ankara print fabric is a tradition in Indonesian culture that spans decades, if not centuries, but the look was truly embraced by the countries of Africa. The bold, printed pattern became so popular here that ankara fabric is strongly linked with African culture, though this material is actually a European version of an Indonesian material. The material is so popular in Africa, you can find it all over. The vivid colors and graphic patterns are all over the streets and shops in Africa. You can find the latest ankara styles at street vendors and shops all over the continent.

Types of Ankara Dress Styles

Because ankara is a type of fabric and not a specific style, any type of dress can be an ankara dress. It simply needs to be made with the ankara print fabric. That means that any style of dress could be an ankara dress, everything from ball gowns to mini dresses. 

However, you will more commonly see ankara fabric used for certain types of dresses. Learn more about the most common dress styles that are made with ankara fabric. From the many options out there, you’ll find the right styles of dresses to flatter your shape and help you show off everything great about ankara fabric patterns. 

A line

JooMeryer Women's African Ankara Print Sexy One Shoulder A-Line Swing Mini Dress with Belt,African Totem,S

A line dresses are flattering on almost all body types and they look amazing in almost all situations. The skirt of A line dresses flares out from the hips, growing wider until it reaches the floor. This creates a silhouette that very much does resemble a capital A. The bodice is fitted to emphasize the waist and bustline. Meanwhile, the flaring skirt helps make your waist look smaller. That’s why it’s hard to go wrong with this silhouette. 

A line ankara dresses are created as casual, semi-formal or even formal wear, depending on how it’s styled. Because ankara fabric is so vivid and colorful, it may be a little too bold for black tie events but you can get away with it at many different formal occasions. 

Fit and Flare

Fit and flare dresses are exactly as the name describes. They fit around the bodice and then flare out from the waist with a circular skirt that is typically shorter than knee-length. This is a very fun and flirty short gown style that is highly eye-catching in ankara fabric. Fit and flare styles can be made with any type of bodice, which creates a wide variety of sleeve styles and necklines. Fit and flare dresses can be worn as casual, professional or semi-formal looks, so this is a great dress style that’s extremely versatile. The ankara skirt can be a little heavier than what you’ll find in other fit and flare designs, but the silhouette is still the same.


VERWIN Floor Length Lace-Up High Waist Stand Collar Sleeveless Women's Maxi Dress Print Dress Brown L

Maxi dresses are named for their length, which goes all the way to the ankle or the floor. Maxi dresses are lightweight and flowy, with full skirts. Any type of bodice or blouse style can be used to complete a maxi dress design. They can also be made with any type of sleeves or neckline, so there are lots of different maxi styles out there to choose from. This is a great casual style that’s full of life and color when it’s made with ankara fabric. Maxi dress styles are incredibly trendy and they look amazing for lots of different occasions and events. The wide, flaring skirt helps to hide the hips, thighs and rear end, covering a multitude of sins. The ankara design is even more colorful and eye-catching in a floor-length dress like the maxi style.


iooiooi Womens Elegant Ankara Maxi Mermaid Dress Lace Decorated African Gowns

Mermaid dresses have a very distinct silhouette. When you’re looking at a mermaid dress, you know it! This dress fits all the curves of your body quite snugly, hugging you all the way down to the knees. From here, the skirt suddenly flares out in a fun end to this floor-length dress. Mermaid dresses are used often in formal wear because this is a long style and because it’s so form-fitting, providing a great way to show off your figure. When you really want to make a statement at a special occasion, a vivid mermaid gown in ankara fabric will certainly do the trick.

In ankara fabric, mermaid dresses call attention even more strongly to all the curves of the body. Because this dress fits so tightly and shows off your figure so well, you may want to pair it with shapewear. The good thing about ankara fabric is that it’s comfortable to wear, so adding another layer won’t cause you to get too overheated. Ankara designs can be beautifully displayed in this figure-loving dress silhouette.


Sheath dresses end at knee length or above and fit the body tightly all the way down. The sheath is a straight style without any real definition. Your figure inside the dress is what provides the definition, as your curves will be clearly outlined against this close-fitting dress. Sheath dresses are popular styles for ankara fabric because they’re figure-flattering and they’re simple, straight styles that are perfect for showing off great colors and interesting patterns. 

Sheath dresses are most commonly worn in professional settings, as casual wear or as semi-formal styles. The classic sheath silhouette is a popular cocktail dress outfit choice. 


The classic shift is a straight dress that fits close to the body but hangs straight down, skimming over the figure rather than clinging to it. There is no definition around the wait or anywhere else in this simple, fun tyle. Shift dresses end above the knee and they’re usually worn as casual style, but can also be seen in office and semi-formal settings, too. 

Shift dresses are a popular choice for ankara fabric because the straight style is perfect for displaying the beautiful fabric itself. The shift is also a good summer dress choice, which pairs well with ankara fabric. The bright colors and graphic detail on the fabric make it a great summer style choice and give you a great way to make a fashion statement.

White Collar

White collar ankara dress looks have emerged as a distinct style of their own. This look is created when a collared white blouse is worn under a dress made with ankara print fabric. The dress itself may have any type of cut or fit. It’s the white collared blouse that makes the style so distinct. This look can be created by slipping a white collared shirt on under a dress but some ankara dress styles come with the white under blouse already included as part of the dress itself.

More Ankara Dress Examples:

SHENBOLEN Women African Print Dresses Autumn and Winter Long Sleeves Ankara Dress(Medium,H)

SHENBOLEN Women African Ankara Batik Print Traditional Clothing Casual Party Dress (Large, Yellow)

SHENBOLEN Women African Print Dress Ankara Fashion Dresses (XXXX-Large, D)

HongyuAmy Women's African Floral Print Dresses Bell Sleeve Ankara Dashiki Midi Party Dress Color E M

What Dresses Can’t Be Made with Ankara Fabric?

Almost any type of dress you might want to wear can be made from ankara fabric. However, there are some dress styles that are made with a very specific type of fabric. Slip dresses, for example, are made with silky or satiny material that makes this style look a lot like a nightgown. Heavier ankara fabric can’t work for this style. Sweater dresses, which are made in knit fabric, are also not suited to the ankara style. Because sweater dresses are always made in a knit, they can’t be made with ankara, as this material is always made in a specific way and it is never a knit fabric.


There’s still a lot to learn about ankara fabric and the different styles that are made with it. If you want to know more about how this fabric is made, how to care for it and how to choose dress styles made from it that will work for you, just keep reading. We’ve got the answers to all the most common questions about ankara fabric and all the ways it’s used to make dresses to help any lady show off her style, her figure and her amazing fashion sense.

How is ankara fabric made?

Ankara fabric is distinct not just for the vivid prints that make it so recognizable, but also for the material itself. Ankara fabric is also known as African wax or Dutch wax because of the way it’s made. The fabric is durable but comfortable to wear and easy to work with, which is one reason why it has become so popular. 

Ankara is a cotton fabric that is specially treated with a wax coating. It is the machine-made version of batik, a handmade fabric with a wax coating that was popular in Indonesia centuries ago. The machine-made version of the fabric, ankara, is easier to make and affordable so that everyone can wear the pretty colors and patterns the fabric is famous for having. West African nations, in particular, embraced the fabric.

To make ankara fabric, molten wax is pressed onto both sides of the cotton fabric. The fabric is put in an indigo bath. A machine then adds two to three more colors to the design, creating a pattern as the colors are placed on the fabric. The fabric is then boiled to remove the wax.

It’s based on a much older type of material but ankara fabric is really a creation of the fashion industry, or rather a recreation of a very old technique that is complicated and time-consuming to make. Through the magic of machines, ankara fabric is now easy enough to make that it’s affordable for anyone who wants to wear it.

How do you care for ankara fabric?

Because of the wax finish, ankara fabric needs some special care. It’s best to hand-wash ankara fabric in cold water to prevent the color from fading. However, you can machine-wash this fabric in cold water. Use the gentle cycle and allow the fabric to air dry. 

Where can you wear ankara dress styles?

The eye-catching colors and patterns of ankara fabric definitely make it stand out, so there are some places where you might not want to wear an ankara dress style. Guests at weddings, for example, are meant to wear something that won’t distract too strongly from the bride. Funerals and other events that are more somber occasions definitely call for darker, muted colors, which is certainly no way to describe ankara fabric. 

Ankara fabric dresses will look amazing in just about any casual setting and sometimes for semi-formal occasions, but the print may be too loud for many professional settings. You can get away with wearing ankara to a formal event but you may stand out there, too. But if you’re running errands or you’re in a mood to be bright and colorful, you can’t go wrong with ankara dress styles. 

How can you tell if it’s an authentic ankara print?

With the popularity of ankara fabric around the world, there are imitators out there. So how can you tell if you’ve got the right kind of fabric? Luckily, it is rather easy to spot the difference between the fakes and the genuine article when it comes to ankara fabric.

First, all genuine ankara fabric is made from 100 percent cotton material. You can also flip the material over to make sure the pattern is printed on the front and back. True ankara fabric will also be made this way, so look for these signs and you’ll know whether or not you’re looking at genuine ankara. 

You definitely want to get the real thing, though there are plenty of imitators that look very similar.

What are asoebi styles?

Ankara print fabric can be used to create asoebi styles, also spelled aso ebi. This is a tradition that originates in Nigeria of an entire family wearing the same print to special events. In the modern era, it’s most commonly seen at weddings. The fabric and pattern is all the same but the dresses may be in any different style, depending on the woman. After all, women are not all the same. You can’t expect them to all wear the same style of dress!