Zanzibar, a group of islands off the coast of Tanzania, was home to a particularly unique women's clothing style in the 19th century. While Muslim women were expected to be completely covered, the Zanzibar pantsuit allowed for greater freedom of movement than dresses, with trousers underneath a shorter dress. The distinctive ruffles at the hem set them apart from other styles.
As far back as the 8th century, Persian, Indian, and Arab traders used Zanzibar as a base for voyages between the Middle East, India, and Africa. Swahili people became intermediaries and facilitators to local, Arab, Persian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian, and Chinese merchants.
It does look like these outfits could be a result of mixing all these cultures together to create a unique style for the Swahilis of Zanzibar. The flares and ruffles may have had a practical purpose for the locals.
Fascinated by the look, spotted at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC, Messy Messy Chic assembled a collection of images of the Swahili women's fashions of yore.