I originally posted this in June 2011 but had to repost it due to SOLANGE – LOSING YOU new video.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine mentioned to me that he would love to dress like the African Dandies. I paused and looked at him with a blank stare. I was unsure what he meant by that so I went straight to my trusty iPhone to Google it and see what he was talking about! Immediately, images popped up of Congolese men who are exquisitely dressed in loud and vibrant 3-piece suits! They are essentially decked out from head to toe, thus “the Dandies” are known as meticulously well-dressed men.
As I continued to Google search, I found out that there is also a book of photographs, by Daniele Tamagni, that came out in 2009, documenting this subculture in the Congo called ‘Gentlemen of Bacongo‘ ( a must buy for my coffee table book collection). Followers of this subculture are known as Le SAPE, or Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (“Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People” for you English speakers). Members of Le SAPE, called Le Sapeurs, follow a strict professional and moral standard while cultivating a flamboyant and impeccable style based on dandies of French origins. These strict standards include upholding many rules: The members are not permitted to mix more than three colors into their ensembles! The Dandy style has origins during the colonial era, when the Congo was colonized by Belgium; this style has evolutionized ever since, into the unique style you see today!
Now I know that I am a bit late with this movement that the Congolese men have revitalized. However, I figured it’s better late than never to share a cool-hunt which is fascinating to me. The only thing that concerns me is that some of these men will spend their hard earned money on designer labels when they barely have food to provide for their families. In the midst of all this poverty, the “dandies” dress quite extravagantly; it seems like quite the paradox! On a more positive note, it also amazes me how these men show such pride in their threads and do not take the clothes on their back for granted. Although the Congolese nation is war torn, the optimistic spirit of the Sapeurs spreads through their art of fashion and style. I think this is a positive and uplifting movement.
“A Congolese Sapeur is a happy man even if he does not eat, because wearing proper clothes feeds the soul and gives pleasure to the body.”
To learn more about the African Dandies I highly recommend the following blog, which gives a well rounded overview from the history to current trends.
Images thanks to Daniele Tamagni