Family Values: An Ode to Aunties and Their Inimitable Sense of Style

WHEN I WAS A KID in my Alabama hometown, every year brought the same parties in our Nigerian-American community: the Fourth of July cookout in the park; the Christmas throwdown in the hotel banquet hall, where my family and our friends wore our finest traditional clothing, a sea of blinding-bright textures and elaborate head ties, called geles, that stretched toward the ceiling. During those holiday parties, as Fela Kuti and King Sunny Adé played from the speakers, I inevitably ended up staring at my mother’s girlfriends, other married (but sometimes divorced or single) women, as they floated around the hall, eating, talking, laughing. Their hair and makeup were exquisitely done, with big curls and updos, red lipstick, and vivid eye shadow; their outfits, planned weeks in advance, melded glamour and comfort so they could sweep you up into their folds of crinkly, glittering fabric as they danced; and their jewelry, usually gold or coral, was dramatic. Their shoes and purses matched, obviously. Their swagger seemed both over-the-top and effortless.

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