Accessories in Johannesburg.

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s economic powerhouse, attracting visitors from throughout the country, continent, and beyond. Its over six million inhabitants dress in a variety of ways, some reflecting their goals, while others try to cling on to a piece of home or celebrate the changing city.

For example, Maria McCloy is from Lesotho. She enjoys wandering the city’s streets, where she has met Tsonga, Zulu, and Ndebele beaders and artists from all across Africa.

Ms. McCloy, 45, began wearing them to red carpet events and parties. She’s been collecting them since her infancy in London, Lagos, Nigeria, and Khartoum, Sudan, adding them to her beaded, brass, fabric, and leather accessories collection.

Ms. McCloy said she works with artisans who know the culture and depends on their instruction.

What is real in a city like Johannesburg, where China dominates the African fabric sector, where brass and metal components are increasingly imported from India, and where local manufacturers battle to survive?

Mme McCloy despised the term “authentic.” There is no one way to be African, she added, just as there is no one way to dress.

Its presence in Johannesburg evokes curiosity, joy, or prejudice. “It immediately crystallises your most likely identity,” said Mr. Sithole, 35.

He donned an umqhele during a TV interview to disguise his uncut hair. He claimed he now wears it to boardrooms and meetings to show that he can appreciate his Zulu culture in a corporate atmosphere.

Intriguing reactions and insults have come from other Black folks, Mr. Sithole claims. Mr. Sithole claims that while Black South Africans wear traditional dress and accessories on special occasions, they avoid them in the workplace.

Far too many young people like him have been conditioned to be uncomfortable in such circumstances.

Karin Orzol hangs tight to the past in a city defined by the future. “I am an ec-lector,” said Ms. Orzol, 46. “Everything has meaning, I’m emotional.”

Mme Orzol’s prized vintage mesh handbag has memories from almost a century. Her great-grandmother transported the purse from England to South Africa in the late 1800s. The handbag was passed down from daughter to daughter as the family relocated throughout the country.

A young woman eager to go on her own travels, Ms. Orzol’s mother handed her the purse. These days, she alters its style by adding or removing larger bags.

Ms. Orzol’s purse, like her vision of Johannesburg – a city with astonishing depth if you know where to look – defies categorization. It doesn’t appear on specific occasions, thus it appears at random.”

He joined an internet group and found a reseller in Britain selling the identical jewellery. The Evae+ piece was €120 ($136), plus €70 for delivery to South Africa. He still went for it.

The necklace, with its butterflies and dice charms, fit Mr. Pilane’s taste and personality wonderfully. “I’m very glad,” he said.

Pilane loves to layer the necklace with other bright, surprising items, like beads or pearls, creating a street-meets-high-end look that fits well in Maboneng, his popular inner-city neighbourhood since 2017.

He moved to Johannesburg a year previously from Rustenburg to study fashion and then focus on the city’s expanding thrifting business. Now he spends his days in the city centre, sorting through masses of used clothing from the US, UK, China, and Japan and selling it to students and professionals alike.


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