Gele, pronounced "gay-lay", is a flat piece of fabric wrapped by hand around the head to form a glorious, often flamboyant head wrap. It has its roots in the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria.
Geles are a big part of Nigerian fashion, and are normally worn on special occasions like weddings, birthdays, naming ceremonies – basically anything that can be celebrated. These pictures show my mum (taken over 25 years ago), my sister on her wedding day, and my little niece on her first birthday wearing geles.
You can tie geles with a range of different materials. The most popular materials used are aso oke, sego, and damask. Aso oke translates as "top cloth" and it's hand-woven material that is normally saved for brides or the celebrant. Sego and damask are more crisp, paper-like materials that are ideal for folding, wrapping, and layering.
There are many ways to tie gele, and gele styles have changed over the years. Back in the day geles were tied more freehand, and it was all about the height. This has changed a lot over the years. Geles now are more structured and uniform.
Go to a Nigerian party any given Saturday, Friday, or Sunday (we Nigerians love to party) and you will find ladies in beautiful traditional attire topped with artfully folded geles.
Lupita Nyong'o wore her gele on the red carpet recently and SLAYED!
And because we wanted to look fly AF too we decided to try on geles. We asked the YouTuber behind Christiana's Closet, who knows her stuff when it comes to tying geles, to work her magic on us.
I am Nigerian so I have worn geles a few times, and every time I wear one I feel royal AF. I mean it's like a crown as been placed on my head. It's a part of culture, it makes me feel proud, and it even makes me sit straight and walk with my head held high.
Christina used aso oke to tie my gele, and gave me a bridal look – and to be fair I feel ready to meet my groom. It feels very comfortable on my head, and I love this colour of purple. I am normally a little self-conscious about not having hair in my face, because I have a fivehead, but I felt so beautiful with this on. I want to wear one all the time!
I’ve seen people wearing geles and I’ve always liked them, but honestly I did not know how much went into them. I honestly thought it was sort of like a bandana.
I was wearing the infinity pleats style, which is tied using 6 yards of ankara material. I was a bit apprehensive when I saw how much fabric was about to be on my head, but surprisingly it felt really light. While I was getting my gele tied I could not hear a thing and it was a bit tight at the start but it felt fine once it was fitted. I really loved the colour of my gele. I would absolutely wear it again. I actually felt really glamorous – it was kind of like a crown. Might make it my new thing.
This was my very first time wearing gele, so I had no idea what to expect. All I could think about was whether wearing one would make my already very round face look even rounder.
I had seen geles before and always thought they looked absolutely stunning, but I hadn’t really paid much attention to them until this day. There is so much work and effort that goes into tying and folding it so that it fits your head and complements your face shape; it sort of reminded me of getting my hair done.
I was surprised by how snug, comfortable, and tight it was. There was no way the gele would fall of my head. I loved the bright yellow colour – I felt I was wearing a beautiful angelic halo. I'll definitely be wearing one again.
My favourite part of the Nigerian weddings I've been to is when the bride and groom shed their Western garb and reappear – almost reborn – in their traditional attire. I'm so moved by this appreciation of their culture, particularly as someone of African-Caribbean heritage who has been robbed of these centuries-old traditions. So, obviously, I had to get involved and reconnect with the Igbo auntie I should've been in another life.
Though I would've loved an ostentatious, bridal gele, I'm modelling a more humble, everyday style (plus very *strong* eyebrows!) but I love it all the same. Wearing gele makes you walk taller, so you feel quite powerful, but what I enjoyed most was seeing how different the four styles were (from the shape, size, number of folds, to difference in fabric) and the skill and attention to detail that went into each design.
I usually flatter my moon face with a huge halo of hair, so I felt a little exposed, but at the next function I attend there'll definitely be gele on my menu. Maybe at Tolani's wedding? Auntie Elizabeth isn't getting any younger...