Kinshasa's young fashionistas parade the Matonge neighborhood wearing haute couture.

Living Poor to Dress Fly in the Congo


Kinshasa's young fashionistas parade the Matonge neighborhood wearing haute couture.

If you walked down the street wearing a monocle, a bowler hat and carrying a cane then you would look like a full blown idiot.

You’d look as dumb as that time you thought wearing a fluro suit to your high school formal was original and hilarious. It wasn’t by the way and that’s the reason you’re not framed on the mantelpiece at your parent’s house.

But these guys do, and do it with so much swag, they’d make you look like Kevin Rudd at an EDM festival wearing glo-stick bracelets in comparison. They’re called Les Sapeurs or La Sape for short, which stands for Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People).

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They’re from Brazzaville, in The Republic of Congo and are literally spending all their money to look fly as fk. Shelling out all their money (some make only $100 USD per year) for French and Italian suits, silk shirts and ties, and real leather shoes.  If they can keep their alligator dress shoes clean in a dusty, shanty-slum, you can keep spag bol off your white shirt, yes?

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They focus on their dress, posture and etiquette, heavily influenced by Dandyism and the French colonisation of the Congo in the beginning of the 20th century. When Congolese soldiers went to fight in WWII, many returned to Africa bringing Parisian fashion with them.

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One guy says he completely hides being a Sapeur from his extended family, because if they found out he’s spending almost $4000 on one pair of shoes while they’re on the daily grind to live, he’s in big shit. No shit. He says, “I go to the bank, get credit and buy, buy, buy. I take out credit for the clothes, four times in all. $8, 600, then $6, 500, then $8, 000… just to buy clothes.” Another guy says, “If I didn’t buy this pair of shoes, I’d have bought a plot of land.”

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We’ll leave you some wise words from a Sapeur that you can reference next time you internally debate whether you need another pair of shoes. “With an arsenal like this, how can I be short of an accessory?”

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