Welcome to the Costume Institute of the African Diaspora

CIAD is a multiplatform hub for interdisciplinary research in costume, dress and adornment from around the African Diaspora.

CIAD‘s aim is to reveal the untold and often forgotten innovations and narratives in the field of clothing and adornment. We do this by:

  • Collating documentation on all aspects of clothing and adornment into an easily accessible database.
  • Undertaking primary research, focusing on historically significant developments and sustainable practices in African Diaspora dress and adornment.
  • Educating through a diverse range of activities encompassing costume, textiles and dress history from the African Diaspora
  • Developing a network of institutions, businesses and practitioners from across the globe to create a mutually beneficial worldwide cultural exchange. 

We define the African Diaspora as being where African people and people of African heritage reside in significant numbers away from their countries of origin, either through forced migration (e.g. enslavement, war) or economic migration (e.g. education, work) and have developed or partake in cultural practices and customs in their places of residence. In this respect, we understand the African Diaspora to have no borders and no particular landmass and is therefore defined by the people.

This is outlined in the blog post – The Need for the Institution of African Diaspora Dress, but to summarise, the need for such an organisation is to bring awareness and acknowledgement to dress and adornment practices that have taken place across the Diaspora and to make a concerted effort at cataloguing the dress history of migrant African people. To do this brings a greater sense of worthiness to the innovations and cultural development of these people who often had to make something out of very little. It also helps educate people about the social history and culture of migrant African people and places this area of African Diaspora history into the wider context of global dress history.

Various dictionary definitions state that costume is defined as:
1. A style of dress, including accessories and hairdos, especially that peculiar to a nation, region, group, or historical period.
2. Dress or garb characteristic of another period, place, person, etc., as worn on the stage or at balls.
3. Fashion of dress appropriate to a particular occasion or season: dancing costume; winter costume.
4. A set of garments, especially women’s garments, selected for wear at a single time; outfit; ensemble.
So therefore we use the word costume in its broadest sense and attribute it to being anything which is put on and adorns the body in anyway

Embedded in the process of creating costume in Africa and the Diaspora is an innovative approach to sustainable practice. This reuse, recycle, renew approach is intrinsic to the methodology used to design and construct these costumes and the narratives that they inhabit. CIAD’s approach to and vision for preserving this history, is intertwined with our commitment to sustainable practice.

How can I get involved?

We are keen to make contact with researchers, writers, historians or people who are passionate about this subject. If you would like to get involved in any way please send us an email to info@ciad.org.uk stating your desire to join the team and what skills you have.

Mission Statement

The Costume Institute of the African Diaspora (CIAD) is a continually growing research hub. Our mission is to provide well researched interdisciplinary documentation on all aspects of clothing and adornment from across the African Diaspora and in so doing create a bridge between cultural organisations worldwide.