The Congo Dandies of Brazzaville
When the topic of Congo comes up fashion is not a word one thinks of first. Other terms such as slums, poverty, hunger, and third-world will probably pop up first. In general people think of most of Africa as having an ever growing pile of issues that are usually in dire circumstances. However, to some people in particular in the capital of the Congo, Brazzaville has some citizens who would argue where as to spend their hard earned money first. Strictly on fashion. The result has created a subculture within Brazzaville. Welcome in the Congo Dandies.
The Sapuers, which stand for (The Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People) try to make it as easy as possible to locate them within the cities. Simply look for vibrant colors, flamboyant actions, polished shoes, elegant behavior, and perfectly tailored suits. All traits that portray a true Sapuer. And everything that would usually portray an extremely high standard of living.
Living in the Congo is actually the exact opposite. Half the population lives under the poverty. It ranked second to last in the human developmental index (2014) and belongs to the bottom portion of the lowest per capita income in the world (2014). How is it possible that any of these so called Sapuers afford to buy such an extensive collection of fine clothing? Truth is many don’t have the money and certain priorities almost always take over.
Many of these men have admitted to taking out bank loans in the thousands usually just to upgrade the wardrobe collection. Often times it becomes a habit and multiple loans will be taken out. Some Sapuers have even shockingly said that they saved up two years of work just to buy a pair of thousand dollar Westons. The money they admit could’ve been used to buy a piece of land, something to help out family in poverty usually. However, it is of upmost importance to these men that they buy legitimate quality and designer level of apparel. They have to be the real deal, nothing fake. Some wives have even backed their husbands. To the man it’s his lifestyle and what he represents.
The SAPE clothing lifestyle has its origins tracing back to the 18th century when the territory was known as a French colony. With the exquisite French lifestyle brought over by many French masters to the Congo, many slaves were usually dressed up in a similar manner as a representation of their owners. The style never died and resulted in a new subculture for the region that continues to thrive strongly among the Congo regions today.
The Sapeur lifestyle is especially noticeable on weekends when Sapeurs meet up to compete against each others expensive designer outfits. The Guinness campaign video above showcases the flaunting, peacock style representation the Congo Dandies are known to bring about while strutting around.
It’s very interesting to see how a very traditional Western etiquette and fashion style that has since re-evolved in the current Western world continue to hold such strong influence in another culture. Expect this tradition to continue to grow as fathers hand down their goodies to the next generation of The Congo Dandies in upholding a local legacy.