Wearing the same "uniform" for a social event has long been a practice that has attracted mixed feelings. Writing for the Nigerian Guardian, Reuben Abati discusses the syndrome (known in Nigeria as Aso Ebi) with seriousness and humor.
I WAS in the company of four of my friends the other day; in the
course of socialising over drinks and assorted talks about the
Nigerian condition, one of the guys, an otherwise comfortable
professional with a large heart for the womenfolk, and an absorptive
capacity for mischief, had pushed the discussions in the direction
of what he called "the aso ebi syndrome". He was not drunk. He is in
fact one of those fellows who can finish a carton of beer and still
remain standing. We often joke that his parents must have met at a
beer parlour or in the vicinity of a brewery!
But this evening, he was more concerned about aso ebi, starting a
mini debate that consumed more bottles of beer, and plates of "isi
ewu" and "orisirisi". "I don't know what my wife is up to", he
announced. Eyes and ears were immediately pointed in his direction,
more so as he sounded as if he was about to invite the general
public into a private marital affair.
"Our wardrobe is full of all kinds of aso ebi", he added. "I can't
even find space for my own clothes any longer. Every week, a friend
or a relation sends my wife aso ebi, sometimes a complete set, with
lace, damask, ankara, and notes about what colour to wear at
particular times. I am no longer finding it funny, because I am the
one who is forced to pick up the bills."
"Why are you complaining? Your wife keeps collecting lorry loads of
aso ebi, because she knows you can afford it. My own wife will never
try it. She knows that if she goes about town collecting clothes
like a coxcomb, she will be the one to pay for it. That is why she
is working. I don't attend parties, and there is no reason why I
should go bankrupt just because someone else is having a party and I
want to make them happy."
"I think it is a woman's thing", someone else volunteered. "Women
like parties a lot. And being seen in aso ebi makes them feel
"Is that why they should inconvenience their husbands?"
"In fact, I hear that the ones who do not have husbands are willing
to do anything to keep up appearances on the party circuit. Many of
those society women you see, they sleep with men to furnish their
wardrobes. Some of them take loans to buy aso ebi."
"You are exaggerating. You have come again"
"That means you don't know what is going on in this town. All those
women you see on the party circuit, have you bothered to find out
how much it costs to sustain one outing. When one of those partying
and jollofing women steps out, you are talking of about one million
naira, complete: head tie, handbag and shoes, lace, jewellery. And
the jewellery has to keep changing as the aso ebi changes."
"The aso ebi that was sent to my wife last week was N250, 000
complete set. And the people who send these things don't even have
the courtesy to ask you whether you are interested or not. They just
send the thing. And it is so bad, because in this town, somebody is
always having a party"
"I don't face that problem because I am Ibo. It is you Yorubas who
are always partying all over the place. If you invite me to a party,
I will wear whatever I have in my wardrobe. What you need is my
presence, not dressing up like a Christmas tree."
"It is no longer a Yoruba thing oh. Even the Hausa/Fulani, Ibos, in
fact every group now wears aso ebi."
"They learnt it from the Yoruba. Your women too like to show off.
One of the problems we have in this society is that people pretend a
lot. If you know the number of people who do things that they are
uncomfortable with, just because they want to please other people.
My friend, look, you have to set down the rules in your own house.
Tell your wife, no more aso ebi. The thing is called aso ebi anyway.
Family attire. The idea is for members of the same family to wear a
uniform when they have an event so that they can be distinguished
from guests. You just tell your wife that she can not belong to
every family in town"
"I don't know why you are preaching. A friend of mine simply banned
the wife from attending parties. She is also not allowed to have too
many friends. It is when a woman starts belonging to this group and
that group that she becomes a prisoner of social conventions. My
friend's wife knows her limits. If she goes against that
instruction, she knows the implications."
"That sounds like you. You always like to terrorise people."
"It is a matter of principle. I don't tolerate nonsense. And the aso
ebi syndrome is becoming a piece of social nonsense. What annoys me
is that people are using it to raise funds for the parties they
intend to hold. If a piece of damask is let's say N6, 000 for
example, somebody who is having a party can send it to your wife for
N15, 000. Then when she goes to the party, they will distribute some
gift items. The truth is that she already paid for those items and
the celebrant had collected money from everybody to finance the
party in addition to the money people will still give her."
"I think our women need to be conscientised to send back the aso ebi
that they do not need or that they have not requested for. They
should not allow themselves to be cheated in the name of friendship"
"It is not that easy. Women don't always want to offend each other.
How would a woman send back the aso ebi for a friend's daughter's
wedding for example? You don't want to give the impression that you
are not happy with your friend's achievement. My wife always says it
is a form of social investment. When you have your own party and you
ask people to buy aso ebi, it is the same people you supported in
the past who will rally round you."
"Okay, you make your friend happy and you inconvenience yourself.
The following week, somebody else brings another aso ebi. And you
buy. Then the following week, another aso ebi. And so on. My elder
sister has a whole wardrobe of acquired aso ebi which she never
wears. Once the party is over, she just throws the clothes into one
corner of her room."
"Oh, I know that type"
"What do you mean you know that type? I am talking about my elder
sister you are saying you know that type. What type?"
"She must be one of those menopausal party freaks. I hear women in
that category don't joke with parties. It is their only opportunity
to get away from the boredom that is creeping upon them as they grow
"Meno what? Let me hear that again"
"Menopausal party freaks. Awon ele mummy"
"Awon iya o ni gba. Ina piti, ina pelebe"
"I hear those arodeyo women are something else. One guy I know had
one of them as a sugar mummy. He had to run away when the woman
wanted to kill him."
"Kill him how?"
"The poor boy could not cope"
"Go and sit down."
"I am sorry for that your friend. These things are spiritual you
"Those women have to keep buying aso ebi, to remain relevant. In
fact, I gather that they compete among themselves, over style, body
shape, and male attention."
"I keep insisting that husbands have a job to do. It is for you as
the family head to lay down the ground rules in your own house."
"That is if you are the head of the house, if you are the
breadwinner. But if you don't have a penny in your pocket and you
want to ban aso ebi in your own house, then you know you are wasting
"A husband is a husband, even if he is a poor one."
"That was then oh, not these days. Today, most of those women you
see are the ones feeding and clothing their husbands. Many young
guys fall into that category. They are like houseboys in their own
"Speaking for myself, I think it is love that matters."
"Love. Uhm. Hear. Hear. Mr Love Darlington! You sound like one of
those men their wives call darling, darling"
"Like a dog"
"The moment my wife calls me darling. I know she is up to something."
"Women are all the same. I beg one Star there"
"Let me also take one for the road."
"Bring another Star"
"For official use"
"I have only put one leg down. Let me add the second one. Bring one
"I am okay. I have taken enough today already. In fact, I should be
on my way."
"Sit down and enjoy yourself. When you get home now, your wife may
have collected another aso ebi for you to buy. Mr darling"
"It is not exactly a battle anybody can win. We can only complain.
It is an African thing. There is something cultural about the way
the African relates to his neighbours. The white man doesn't have
"Wetin concern white man with party attires, aso ebi or whatever you
call it? But for us, culture should be dynamic. The aso ebi syndrome
is an abuse of the extended family system. There must be a limit to
the extension. One family was having a naming ceremony, they asked
people to buy aso ebi"
"People should learn to be moderate. Women must learn not to judge
themselves by other people's standards. Buying three different
clothes, specially for one party, and changing jewellery like a
blacksmith's forge is not about belonging to the happening social
crowd, it is plain silliness"
"I really must be on my way now. But I want to say that some men are
guilty of this thing that we are talking about too."
"You mean some men also wear aso ebi. Well, okay yes, may be if they
have to. But I really don't think that Nigerian men are into like
"No. I am telling you that there are some men in this society who
buy as many aso ebi as the women, and who hop from one party to the
other dressed like mannequins. They call it enjoyment."
"I call it foolishness."
"It is their money they are spending mind you. And these men that I
am talking about also buy jewellery. When you listen to them discuss
the price of gold jewellery and the difference between different
grades of lace, you will be shocked."
"You are talking about those people."
"AC-DC. Front and back she-men "
"No. I am talking about perfectly normal people who just compete
with their wives for aso ebi."
"You know in this society, there are all sorts. That is what you get
when a society is this complex."
"I really must go, now".
"Okay, greet madam, oh"
"No go carry iya ngba life oh."