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Fashion As a Form of Expression, Is Our Cultural Society Ready For This?



According to the Urban Dictionary, “A real nonconformist would like stuff before it was fashionable, during its fashionableness and after it has gone out of fashion.” Nonconformists are the trendsetters; they make their own trends and people imitate them. They are the likes of Lady Gaga and Gwen Stefani.

Lady Gaga is an American pop artist whose fashion choices are known for treading the thin line between being avant-garde artistry and being wildly outrageous. She never fails to make a fashion statement and always has a message to deliver. She possesses a controversial sense of style, which you can either love or hate. She uses fashion and music as platforms to express herself and according to her, “when I’m writing music, I’m thinking about the clothes I want to wear on stage. It’s all about everything altogether art, pop performance art, and fashion. For me, it’s everything coming together and being a real story that will bring back the super-fan. I want to bring that back. I want the imagery to be so strong that fans will want to eat and taste and lick every part of us.” In spite of her bizarre style, Lady Gaga is considered a fashion icon and is respected in the fashion industry; she has reinvented the edgy looks of Grace Jones and Madonna and made them her own. There is an inscrutable air about her but one thing that Lady Gaga always exudes is confidence. Her most memorable appearance is showing up at the 2011 Grammy Awards in a giant egg and crawling out of it to sing to the world that she was ‘born this way’.

Another nonconformist fashionista rock and roll sensation, Gwen Stefani is no slave to typical fashion norms. She has broken every fashion rule there is and has managed to make it look cool. Her style is punk and edgy and she has remained loyal to this form of expression throughout out her career. As a teenager she would experiment by sewing her own clothes, eager to create her own fashion identity. “Everyone knew not to walk in my room without shoes on, ’cause of the pins’, she says. In spite of  her metamorphosis from a child star to a mother, one thing that has been constant is Gwen’s style. She is easily identified by her bright red lips and by her blond hair. Many have criticized her idiosyncratic fashion sense but she is still considered a fashion icon and a trendsetter. She has successfully created a signature style and owns her own fashion label, L.A.M.B.

These two are not the only style icons going against traditional styles of expression; the permissive American society and the even more lax environment of Hollywood creates an atmosphere conducive to such experimentation and free expression through fashion. This is quite unlike our society; there is a restricted platform for such blatant expression in Nigeria. In a more judgmental society like ours, it is rare to see someone who stands out from the crowd in terms of fashion. You hardly see an emo chick with dark makeup and spiky hair walking around without snide comments being made or being reprimanded by ‘elders’. Those who have dared to give free reign to creative expression in their dressing have been called names (gay, hideous, attention whores) and misrepresented by the tabloids. A victim of this is Denrele.

Denrele Edun is someone you would call a public figure, an entertainment personality. His style is punk and fun, an extension of his personality. He has owned his look to a point that seeing it on someone else is just weird. He is a fashion rebel with no cause besides being himself. In an interview with he said, “I am just expressing my individuality. Most people ask me that question and I would say I just want to be me. Some people think I dress like this to attract attention, but I have always had attention from childhood.” A lot of people curb their creativity because they are expected to look a certain way that has been dictated by society, parents or religion; therefore their style has no individuality, this means it lacks personality and does not reflect their character, this is not necessarily a bad thing but style should be a platform that allows an individual to express themselves as they deem fit.

I carried out a survey to find out how everyday people feel about fashion as a form of expression and if their cultural society restricts their style. Aisha, an Economics student from Kano State, was clad in a long dress and a veil, and when asked why she was dressed like that, her response was “this is the way a Muslim girl is required to dress and besides my Dad will kill me if he sees me in something else”. She was asked to pick an alter ego style and she said, “I love Serena from Gossip Girl, if I had my way I would dress like her all the time.” Yvonne, a Communications and Multimedia student from Edo State, feels that living in Nigeria restricts her style. According to her, “it’s the way people would make judgments about you if you look a certain way. I’d like to dress more rock ‘n’ roll, but in Nigeria especially, people will make the assumptions that you’re immoral and irresponsible.” Mrs. Okafor, a banker who resides in Yola, Adamawa State, said that if her daughter ever decided to dress Goth, “I don’t care what she’s trying to express, I will beat sense into her.” Damola, an Information Technology student from Lagos, describes his style as old school. “I like to keep it simple and neat, none of that crazy stuff,” he said.

These responses suggest that our society is still medieval in its attitude towards fashion and the older generation is finding it difficult to understand or relate to the younger generation. The younger generation individuals are stifling their creativity for fear of criticism and judgement. From what I gathered, the society has found justification for being close-minded towards what is commonly referred to as a ‘foreign form of expression’; it fears corruption of behaviors and also pollution of culture. In our society being a non-conformist is all kinds of wrong, it means you don’t follow rules and this is seen as a sign of disrespect. Usually non-conformists are associated with something bad, since most of them get their inspiration from pop culture and rock and roll, their sense of style is rumored to be influenced by the devil and one thing our society will not condone is anything devilish for Nigerians are known to be very religious. You can wear leather from head to toe and have on as much piercing as you want, the most you get are hushed whispers as you walk by or hideous looks but accessorize with a red horn and your look becomes offensive. The larger issue is, should it be deemed offensive or viewed merely as self expression?

I believe fashion is a form of expression and according to Anna Dello Russo, Japanese Vogue’s editor-at-large, blogger extra-ordinaire and international style sensation, “I don’t want to be cool, I want to be fashion”. Fashion is art and allows for creativity whereby one is able to have an individual identity that makes one special. What you wear portrays to the world who you are, and it gives people a visual perception of you. People should be able to wear their emotions. If I’m feeling like a princess today I should be able to wear a tutu skirt with yellow tights and a tiara without being sent out of class or taken to church for deliverance. This brings up the question, is Nigeria ready for fashion as a medium of expression?

Wiki Fashion
Modern Ghana
Urban Dictionary


Twitter: @ReineMichi

A Journalism and TV/Film student who is also a fashion enthusiast. Fashion blogger, wardrobe/fashion stylist. I love to read, watch movies and hang out with friends. i have a special interest in religion, sociology and psychology. my Hercules heel is shopping!


  1. mii

    June 2, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    i love denrele’s last sentence, its just the bottomline of everything were saying here, but while i still wanna believe everything should be done in decency, if everyone follows the decent way, life might be a lil boring.. my conclusion? live your style !


    June 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    not yet wil get there someday

    • Ujumama

      June 6, 2011 at 6:37 am

      I pray in the mighty name of Jesus Christ that we never get there! Open your eyes or better still ask God to open your eyes to discern demonic manifestation in disguise of fashion!

    • Teetee

      June 6, 2011 at 9:31 am

      Chill now lol…. it’s not that serious. nothing is that serious!

  3. Xoba

    June 2, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    … Itz beta to kip shut, than hurt one’s ego… so I beta zip my lip! bt na wa oh for so called trendsetters!

  4. J. S. Talabz

    June 2, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Yeah, Nigeria is kind of conservative when it comes to fashion, here in the U.S.A you see people wearing all sorts of crazy clothes, piercings, hairstyles and tattoos. But I dont think the restrictive atmosphere in Nigeria should stop anyone from expressing themselves the way they want, thats why I give big ups to Denrele and other fashionistas in Naija who are pushing the envelope fashion-wise.

  5. spicy

    June 2, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Abeg i just find Denrele’s style weird, even the ppl i see dressed like that here in the Uk, I classify them as weird too so i’m not being biased towards Naija…Lady Gaga is a crazy weirdo as well,and if i see any1 in Naija chanelling her style,i will make sure i cross the road and avoid them.

  6. fokasibe

    June 2, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Fashion should not be a form of expression….that’s what your lips are for…what with the meat dresses and egg-clothes….whatever will we see next all in the name of fashion? People should keep it decent!


    June 2, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    it’s not everything in the west that Nigeria must copy. can’t we come up with our own stuff. we don’t have to do all this weird/outlandish stuff that the westerns do to show that we are “accepting” or what would be the better word for it? abeg, that stuff should stay here in the west. no be copy copy syndrome again? Denrele, no comment.

    • Jade82

      June 2, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      I hear you girl….Everyone wan answer am a trend-setter….as you mentioned 9ga need to stop this copy copy. We need to do things that the West will want to copy… Lord JESUS At least they love Ankara can’t 9ga find away to make this something serious business out of it…….

  8. hmmmm

    June 2, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    i DONT like denrele’s style at all and i beg to disagree that he is a fashionista or trend setter in the fashion industry….nigeria is not yet ready for the so-called expresing yourself through fashion….i actually think its a good thing that yes, we’re expressing ourselves to some extent but at the same time tht sanity is there…u can rock a ‘rock’ look and still look decent and all, however not the own 2 kobo..

  9. Goody Good

    June 2, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    This article is all about trying to be as cool as the western world!!! I believe we need to hold on to what is left of our culture and beliefs.

    There are other ways to express yourself without looking scary or crazy. What message exactly are you passing accross by wearing rags and funny hairdos. Please these so-called fiery people shld find more positive ways to express themselves!!

  10. faith

    June 2, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    people shuld wear wat eva dey like as long as it appropriate for dat paticuler occasion. shikina….

  11. Truetalk

    June 2, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    All I can say is that you will be addressed by the way you dress. Lady Gaga,Denrele, and Gwen Stefani are in the entertainment industry, so they dress like entertainers. There is a time and place for everything. You shouldn’t show up at work (or some other serious setting) looking silly. For me, style is about comfort, modesty, and decency.

  12. Ready

    June 2, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I consider myself pretty open-minded but I gotta admit that Denrele just weirds me out. I think it’s a gimmick…expressing yourself doesn’t mean you have to kiss Charly Boy (who should accept his irrelevance BTW) on the cover of a magazine. Neither does it mean your event hosting style should include ‘all of una for this side, your mama dey craze (I went to a concert where he did that after Basketmouth was nowhere to be found). He’s an attention seeker in my opinion.
    As for expression through fashion, I think we’re not there yet but I support it when it’s truly self-expression. We also need to remember that performance outfits are different from day-to-day outfits. Gwen Stefani remains cool & edgy even when playing with her kids at the park, but she’s not gonna wear her stage outfits. Some people just wanna shock & get tongues wagging…or they call it fashion when it really is just a hot mess.

    • Naveah

      June 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm


  13. adnyl

    June 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    omg! never has it ever been a time when people should be allowed to just do what they want to do! there should definitely be a medium and a limit as to what you can, should, and ought not do. as a mother a person living in the u.s. and having traveled, there are a few places that come close to what we here in the west do but, my God when I leave from here and travel home..I’m so happy to see decent people dressed like they know how to( parden my expression) the people in the west just don’t get what it means “class” is in the clothes you wear! and no people should never imatate the people in the west, there are a few that can bring it, however if the younger generation of people really knew the kind of lasting impreesion they have on the world, i wonder if they would continue to do the same nonsense they do!

  14. Mary007

    June 2, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    I think in Nigeria what parents and society are trying to do is instill discipline (dont copy everything western we still have values) and also for one to dress the way they want to be addressed.

  15. Zara

    June 2, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    They should only be called trendsetters if you see someone apart from them wearing their kind of outfits. Which woman in America have you seen dressing like Lady Gaga or which man in Nigeria have you seen dressing like Denrele Edun? Abeg jor! They are not trendsetters!

  16. Morenike

    June 2, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    Abeg ooo, there is a BIG LINE between fashion and PURE MADNESS! Lady Weyre, I mean gaga, has crossed that line. We do not need to follow her. Thank you

  17. yoma

    June 2, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    many of you just did wat yu wil never want them to do to you- you judged.
    thnk about yourseefl, wateva yu consider ur cool is madness to someone else,u wear jeans pants? my dad wont hav dat-it is crazy! yu make up? are yu mad? some parents dont want it! yet we make up nd judge those that do plastic surgery..i see no difference becos at the end both of you are trying to achieve the same thing. if derenle creeps you out, fine, but d problem is with you not with derenle..he has opened himself up to who he is(i cnt believ dat pple actually believed he kissed charly boy becos of dat pix). wat is fashion? tube gowns? one-shoulder? micro mini? shredded jeans? transparent tops? push up bras? they are expressions of a person who wants to get out of the confines of society’s judgement so they find a middle ground-basically, they compromise and then they now think they should tell other people how to dress up..
    for me, if i hav noot found my reason for being, for living and pursuing it, i have no reason being alive more less telling someone how to live.
    all that talk of living like the west doesnt even hold water becos EVERYBODY, EVERYONE of yu then, is living like the west so why should derenle be excluded? because if iits abt living like the west, yu wear wat they wear,yu go for outings like them, you use their shrt hand in writin, yu talk wit their slangs so wat is wrong wit living like them?
    abeg, lets bug about better things because we should aall have learnt by now that those that conform in wat ever area or form of life never leave a legacy that inspires the next generation…
    i dont like lady gaga bt i wont condemn her outfit; i love stefani and i wont tell her to change..for derenle, watever he is doin is rocking weda i like him or nnot…

    • Bellar

      June 3, 2011 at 2:23 pm

      I concur! You guys are all fake .
      Sitting behind your desks and judging others because of wat they wear. If you don’t love it close yr eyes.

    • Ready

      June 4, 2011 at 7:28 am

      See, I hate comments like this. If you don’t disagree, state your opinion & keep it moving. Telling others to close their eyes is just immature & unnecessary. We all know that appearance is a huge element in our society, and even more so for public figures. If I don’t like it, I can’t close my eyes because they’re in my face all the damn time. And for the commenter below, no one is gonna jump off a bridge because you think they should like someone. Live & let live.


      June 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm

      OMG, I love you.

      Expressing yourself doesn’t mean copying the West. If anything, we Africans invented extravagance. It’s actually in our following the West that we have become more modest!
      Anyway, everyone should do them. And if you don’t like Denrenle or Lady gaga or Oroma Elewa then jump of 3rd mainland

    • Ujumama

      June 6, 2011 at 6:39 am

      I pray in the mighty name of Jesus Christ that we never get there! Open your eyes or better still ask God to open your eyes to discern demonic manifestation in disguise of fashion! Is that what they thot yoou in sociology, tschew!!!!

  18. Teetee

    June 3, 2011 at 12:09 am

    But why are you guyz like this? Did anybody ask you to follow Gaga? read the article again. the article is exploring fashion as a form of expression, Lady Gaga and Denrele are merely examples of people who have done so. Gosh!

  19. Tiki

    June 3, 2011 at 12:27 am

    Nope, Nigeria aint ready…despite all their breakthroughs in most other domains, fashion as a form of expression is largely underdeveloped…

  20. Teetee

    June 3, 2011 at 2:39 am

    well said Yoma and Tiki I agree with you.

  21. molarah

    June 3, 2011 at 3:20 am

    I beg to disagree…with the point that Nigerians are not fashionably creative. Other Africans (and even some non-Africans) would admit that they greatly admire what contemporary Nigerians do with their local attire, most especially the ankara. I guess it depends on what perspective you are looking at it from. And also the fact that people have found other ways to ‘express’ themselves beyond fashion. As for Lady giragira I think its all ‘notice-me’, she’s way over the top…she stopped making sense (fashion wise and otherwise) for me a long time ago….

  22. kaynani

    June 3, 2011 at 8:33 am

    I’m not sure Naija iz redy 4 fashion but then again, we r in a process of rebirth. Stuff r changing. And an irony is, what we hv com 2 c as ‘culturally acceptable’ is in fact boRrowed… Our perception of corpor8 wear and evn d styles we sew wit our ankara are all borrowed frm western n arab cultures. So d changing trends shuldnt cm as a shock. If we shd bind back to our deep structure, we’d find the so called ‘indescent dressing’ in most ov our traditional fashion. We r V. Confused

  23. cathy

    June 3, 2011 at 11:27 am

    style should allow people to express themselves as they deem fit even wearing no bra and thong panties isn’t a crime. ok oooo

  24. Ayo Fashola

    June 4, 2011 at 12:33 am

    As a style coach and image consultant, its about achieving balance. You want to express yourself, but be mindful and respectful of how that image is projected. We live in a world with people, not on an island. Style is to get an idea of who you are, but don’t vomit who you are on me. Classic, clean lines, tailored pieces, structure communicates you thought about the relationships you would come in contact with as you start your day. Its one thing to be admired, its another thing to look like you are vying so hard for attention. Its just low self-esteem but on the extreme end of the spectrum. I feel the Nigerian environment can be a bit stifling, but so is the U.S. especially in southern states where Christianity is prevelant, i.e. Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, etc as there is an energy and a vibe to keep you in order but this life is also about pushing boundaries and limits, inch by inch until you can come full circle to expressing who you are which includes how you have interacted with others. You cannot come into full bloom if everyone is saying “ouch” to you and what you wear, along the way.

  25. Somegurl

    June 4, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Being fashionable is good; Godliness and fashion can go together. However, in the world that we are today, most Godly fashion has lost taste….most often than not they r seen as boring, old fashioned or even conservative. By Godly fashion sense, I dont mean XXLong skirts, shirts or dresses that don’t fit, compulsory head gears or styles in this line! I would agree that sometimes we, Nigerians are ‘Old skool’ -it can be annoying sometimes – but I think this attitude helps us to really think before we dress.

  26. Agu

    June 4, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    for those of you who think this article is about “copying” western culture, you may very well be one of the many problems of Nigerian culture. forget about race, color and nationality. we r all part of the human race. so i don’t know why some people in one part of the world should be allowed to express themselves in whatever way they feel, without being persecuted for it, while some others should not, Just because of where they come from or find themselves at the time. I guess i can understand the whole thing about culture and respect, but when you really think about it, if I chooses to dress in a certain way or even act in a certain way in order to stay true to myself, without harming anyone or having the intention of offending anyone, and someone else chooses to be offended by that for whatever reason, then it’s not really my problem. if I personally don’t have a problem with the way i am dressed, then why should you?

  27. Agu

    June 4, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    i guess i should add in conclusion that if you choose to be offended by the way someone else is dressed, then you are actually the one creating the problem and not me.

  28. Lue

    June 6, 2011 at 9:11 am

    seriously? yu mean someone’s perfect way of expressing their self is dressing like a nut case?……..dat should be a mad man’s way of expression and i cant picture anybody dressing like that and walking on the street. if you think its so cool y dont you try it and see the reaction you ll get…………………

  29. Tutu

    June 6, 2011 at 11:32 am

    We all cannot look like tin soldiers as a matter of fact i am attracted to people like denrele because i see them as courageous and loyal and less likely to put me out there if they thought i did something different from the world.
    Its important to be true to thou self.

    On a lighter note New Arrivals + Get free next day delivery nationwide when you order online at now!

  30. Obi-talk

    June 6, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    in nigeria we still have groups who express themselves through their outfit so thsi really insist a western thing. I remember when I was still at uni, their were studenst who took it upon themselves to always wear ankara outfits and carry dred locks or natural hair. this wasnt the norm for the rest of teh campus but for those group it was all about being Nigerian or ethnic to the core and it was a way of them rejecting western ideas or so.

    there are other forms and in nigeria it doesnt neccesarily have to be ‘goth’ outfit, we have our own ways of expressing ourselves.

  31. t

    June 7, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    If lady gaga chooses to wear pieces of meat on her body, it is her bloody business. If the meat is spoilt and smelly or flies are following her all around me, then I have a problem wit that. If Denrele wants to wear torn clothes and chains all around himself, It is his headache. If the torn clothes reveal his private body parts esp if I have my children with me or if his chains make a heck of noise as he passes me, then I have a problem with that!!!…I think fashion is an expression of what one is and atimes we complain only because we can’t imagine ourselves wearing it..not necessarily cos it is not appealing(tho unfortunately, majority of these trendsetting are unappealling). If we can embrace maxi skirts, micheal jackson’s jackets, brazillian weaves, etc, then we should be willing to accept the outrageous ones too- as long as it is worn appropriately and not constituting a nuisance. I mean, wetin “Bum shorts” dey find for bank???..saw this in abuja recently!

  32. yomie

    June 9, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    well i still believe in the slogan of been addressed the way a person is dressed, i dnt appreaciate Denrele style of dressing bcos dressing should at least be appropriate and appealing, but his dressing lacks both, its not really an expression of the person that he truly is, but rather wat he wants people to believe he is.lets go back to our cultural ways

  33. Renee S

    November 1, 2013 at 4:47 pm

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