Capulanas: A Staple in Mozambican Style

What exactly is a capulana? You’ve probably seen them before. A capulana is a type of printed sarong, worn as a skirt or dress, headdress, shawl, towel, and even to carry a baby on your back (Ericsson, 2013). Capulanas are primarily worn in Mozambique, but also worn in other African countries and called different names depending on the country. Mozambican capulanas were once manufactured in India and brought to Mozambique by Southeast Asian traders. After Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975, and also during war times, there was a shortage of capulanas (Vermelha, 2004). Today, there are specialty stores just for the selling of capulanas owned by Mozambican people, with imported cloths from India. Along with capulanas multi-purposes, Mozambican tailors and designers use second-hand clothing in combination with traditional capulanas to create new looks (Ericsson, 2013).


Mozambican woman in a market with capulanas. Google image.

The number of  capulanas owned by Mozambican women are considered symbols of high status; the more, the better. In some areas of Mozambique, the more capulanas that a woman wears at one time is a symbol of wealth. It is said that Mozambican women feel most womanly when wearing a capulana. Urban and rural Mozambican women wear this respected garment. In different regions of the country, women wear their capulanas in different ways; northern Mozambican women wear a second capulana as head wrap, while southern Mozambican women wear matching capulanas as headscarves and wrap-around dresses.

Like clothing in general, capulanas can be used to communicate messages. Capulanas’ printed patterns may include political slogans, pictures of public figures, proverbs, or local events. Capulanas are used for practical purposes such as carrying merchandise or used as curtains, as well as being used during religious ceremonies or political events.


Mozambican capulana celebrating the victorious campaign for the new mayor of Quelimane, Manuel de Araujo


Detail of the Manuel de Araujo capulana, formerly featured in the Talking Textiles: Communicating through Cloth fall 2017 exhibit at the Clothing and Textiles Museum at Iowa State University

A Mozambican woman’s capulana can tell the story of her village and country. For example, the Tufo dance is a religious performance in Mozambique in which traditional capulanas are worn for the performance at weddings (Vermelha, 2004). Each performance has its own capulana, as well as each group of Tufo dancers have their own colored-coordinated capulana (Vermelha, 2004). The colorful and eye-catching capulanas have a long history and a deep significance to Mozambican people.


Mozambican women wearing capulanas. Google image.

Ericcson, A. (2013). The life of a dress: Mozambique. The Swedish School of Textiles, University of Boras: Boras, Sweden.

Vermelha, E. (2004). Tufo dancing: Muslim women’s culture in northern Mozambique. Lusotopie, pp. 39-65.

Speaking with Cloth: Capulanas of Mozambique. University of Denver: DU Department of Anthropology.

Lodge, K. (2016). Wrapped in a capulana. Retrieved from:





Pink vs. Blue: The Story of Gender Color-Coding

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Boys don’t wear pink” or “Blue is too boyish for girls”? Have you ever wondered where do those phrases come from, or who made up that rule? Well, here is an argument to those statements. Throughout time, women’s and men’s clothing has gone from feminine to androgynous to masculine and everywhere in between. Children’s clothing has had quite a history itself. Many of us have grown up in the day and age when it was considered the standard gender norm for boys to wear blue and girls to wear pink. For decades, there has been a rigid expectation of gender roles; boys are to be playful and free while girls are nurturing and useful (Paoletti, 2012). Before young children even understand what gender norms are, pink and blue are used to define the baby’s gender to other people (Paoletti, 1987).


Boy’s collared, blue cotton corduroy sport shirt circa 1955.


Girl’s pink and white cotton dress circa 1980.

Assigning a color to genders is a trait that came about during the twentieth-century in the Americas and Europe (Frassanito & Pettorini, 2008). In the nineteenth century, infant boys and girls were dressed in white dresses (Paoletti, 1987; Frassanito & Pettorini, 2008). Decades ago, colors for boys and girls were the complete opposite. Pink was considered to be a watered-down version of a fierce red, which is more suitable for boys while blue was considered more suitable for girls because of the correlation to the Virgin Mary, who often depicted wearing shades of blue (Frassanito & Pettorini, 2008). According to the June 1918 edition of Ladies Home Journal, it was the generally accepted rule that pink was for boys and blue was for girls because pink was considered a stronger color and therefore more suitable for boys than the dainty and delicate blue (Frassanito & Pettorini, 2008).


White and pink infant dress from circa 1865. Originally worn by a boy.

The current idea of pink for girls/blue for boys did not come to be until the 1950s, post-WWII. For example, in Nazi Germany, pink triangles were used in concentration camps to identify homosexuals, which led to the idea of men wearing pink is feminine (Frassanito & Pettorini, 2008). Post-World War II, blue became used more and more as a color for men while pink was used to promote femininity in women. For example, the 1957 movie Funny Face starring Audrey Hepburn shows her very feminine character wearing pink-colored clothing. The idea of pink for girls and blue for boys is relatively new. Today, retailers are selling gender-neutral clothing, which is reminiscent of the nineteenth century asexual style of dressing young children. In a society of growing gender fluidity, where people are letting go of old gender norms and stereotypes, people are starting to feel more comfortable wearing whatever color the choose despite their gender. Just as color-coded clothing based on gender has changed over time, it seems that we are again about to shift the narrative of what boy and girls, and men and women should wear.

By Courtney D. Johnson


Boy’s playsuit and a girl’s dress featured in the Talking Textiles: Communicating through Cloth exhibit currently on display in the Textiles and Clothing Museum.

Paoletti, J. B. (1987). Clothing and gender in America: children’s fashions, 1890-1920. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 13(1), 136-143.

Frassanito, P. & Pettorini, B. (2008). Pink and blue: the color of gender. Childs Nervous System, Vol. 24, pp. 881-882.

Paoletti, J. B. (2012). Pink and blue: telling the boys from the girls in America. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.