Original Durban Street Style

Ten Levi’s looks that define Durban’s distinct street style

By Samora Chapman

With an average temperature similar to the inside of an oversubscribed Bikram Yoga studio, you can forgive the majority of Durbanites for dressing in a uniform of flip-flops, boardies or summer dresses.

And why not? Comfort should always come before style when dressing for such a humid subtropical climate. That said, the two need not be mutually exclusive and our Durban stringer Samora has snapped ten examples of the two living harmoniously in his own backyard. Or should that be beachfront?

“Durban style is a funny thing,” says Samora. “It’s defined by the fact that it’s a city by the sea and so there’s a lot of colourful, tropical stuff. There’s a bit of Indian influence and a big mix of different African styles and cultures. It’s a true African metropolis. Obviously it’s hard to get away from the surf influence – it’s a surf city after all – so again it’s tropical fashion. But as you can see here, if you’re prepared to sweat it out you’ll stand out and look good.”

The leaders of this laidback look wear their Levi’s in fresh new ways – cutting jeans into shorts, pairing them unexpectedly, customizing, opting for supersized silhouettes and then there's all the DIY rips and tears that keep their legs breezy.

There have been recent attempts to solidify Durban’s style status in the form of the DFF Designer Suites. As an extension of the Durban Fashion Fair –conceptualised by the eThekwini Municipality – the initiative aims to showcase local talent, open up retail opportunities and position Durban as a key fashion hub. It also intends to explore what’s been happening down at Morrison Street – a piece of Maboneng in surf city which is breathing new life into the 031. No one can deny that something’s bubbling up. 

Ultimately what we’ll always love about Durbanites and Durban style is how there’s no pretense here. They’re tough salt-of-the-earth types who love to do their own thing, be their own people and stand out from the crowd. True originals.


With a board in her hand, salt on her skin and sand in her hair, Robyn is the type to kick off her shoes, roll up her Levi's and cruise around, turning heads wherever she goes. Dressed in the sort of ‘dad shirt’ Magnum PI made famous, she’s like a child of the 60s – naturally beautiful with a simple, laidback style.


There are rips and then there are rips. These fall into the second category, with a perfect thread-to-tear ratio. You know by now that we’re fans of the pristine white sneaker, and how the pastel satchel brings as much interest to Keesha's look as does the colour-blocked cardigan. We also like how she combines so many different styles – prim and preppy and flat-out old-school – and still manages to make it work. Feminine with a splash of bright Zulu beadwork and ripped boyfriend jeans make hers a comfy-cool look with an authentic spin.


This guy’s favourite shorts used to be long, but when the holes in the knees finally ripped through, he simply tore the remaining fabric in half to create the perfect bespoke-style cutoffs. That’s the sign of quality: when you can wear something forever and it grows with you and instead of dying it becomes something else. Otherwise we dig Mongezi’s button-up shirt; it’s the reason we chased him across campus to snap this pic. It’s a classic print shirt reminiscent of conscious 90s hip hop crews, like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.


With a grungy washed-out trucker and baggy light-wash jeans, Nompilo softens her look with an oversized T-shirt and chunky heels. Playing perfectly with proportions and different textures, she creates an arresting look that's all the more powerful due to its simplicity. Add to this her sneaky tattoos and we’re imagining downtown LA and West Coast gangster rap. At the same time, she’s got so much poise, making for a clash of influences that culminate in truly original style.


The Denim Palace founder and queen of the Durban denim scene has been bringing her reworked jeans to Morrison Street since it became a destination for the city’s original style. Pairing the slouchiest boyfriend jeans she owns with a cuffed ankle and heels, Nwabisa plays with proportion and proves why she’s considered denim royalty. Bow down to this businesswoman, fashion leader and a lady-of-style out to conquer.


It’s not often you get to wear long pants in Durban but when you do, you pull out the pair you’ve been wearing for years. If you buy right, then the right pair can last you a lifetime. You can see in the middle butt-pic that these started off as a darker denim and have been worn to washed-out perfection. Like those guys who pride themselves on how their rides are ‘built not bought’, the same goes for denim where kudos is earned by DIY – distress it yourself.


This dedicated follower of fashion brings in all the cool-kid accouterments, like a long-line T-shirt, white jeans, faded trucker, 80s digital watch, high-top sneakers and a five-panel cap. We like how he’s gone for a muted tone that is the colour of the ocean in her various moods – from dark and stormy, to glassy offshore, to choppy wave caps. There’s elements of skate culture here with a dash of hip hop and rolled-up jeans ‘cos it’s hotter than a Durban dancefloor


This musician sticks with the classic Rock 'n' Roll diva look of tight black Levi’s, red lipstick and aviators. Looking out over the city from her rooftop, she tells us that the Levi’s she’s wearing were the first jeans that her daddy bought her and that’s why they’re still her favorite. She teams it with a loose-fitting, hospice-copped shirt for a vintage-inspired finish. 


Fiery, feisty and full-of-attitude, this bombshell exudes a personality so bold it comes through in her style. She boasts different colour hair every other week and is famous for her oversized jackets and boyfriend jeans – ‘cos she’s gangster like that. Those earrings and that shirt bring the tropic funk and you’ve got to love her pineapple-yellow boots and custom-painted KYPO jacket. Bam!


We asked our photographer to turn his camera on himself, as we know he’s got a thing for jackets – a hangover from the time he spent in London. Not one to let the sunny weather dress him down, Samora feels that a jacket and closed shoes complete a look, despite Durban’s somewhat lax dress code. This particular jacket was painted by Durban street artist Mook Lion for one of Durban’s newest start-ups, KYPO, which is all about sourcing vintage and thrift shop finds and then revitalizing them with splashes of colour. The canvas is the same; the artwork simply changes things up.