Studies have shown ethnic differences in body fat distribution, characterised by greater peripheral and less central fat accumulation in black compared to white South African (SA) women. As sex hormones play an important role in body fat distribution, our study aimed to determine whether differences in body fat distribution between black and white SA women were associated with subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) expression of oestrogen receptors (ERA and ERB) and aromatase (CYP19A1). Body fat distribution (DXA and CT) and ERA, ERB and CYP19A1 expression in abdominal and gluteal SAT were measured in 26 black and 22 white SA women. Abdominal SAT ERA and ERB did not differ by ethnicity or BMI. Gluteal ERA was higher (1.08 ± 0.06 vs 0.99 ± 0.05, P < 0.001) and ERB was lower (0.99 ± 0.06 vs 1.10 ± 0.07, P < 0.001) in black vs white SA women. CYP19A1 increased with obesity in all depots (P < 0.001). In both black and white SA women, gluteal ERA was associated with lower central fat mass (FM) and greater gynoid FM (P < 0.05), while the inverse association was shown for CYP19A1 in all depots (P < 0.01). In conclusion, ethnic differences in gluteal ERA expression were associated with differences in body fat distribution previously reported between black and white SA women.