While America is more concerned with looking effortlessly chic, men in the Congo are putting together creative, and high fashion looks, that look like they are straight out of magazines. The Sapeurs of Kinshasa and Brazzaville bring color and high-end sophistication to their cities. Not concerned with looking like they haven’t put time and effort into cultivating their outfits, these men try, and succeed, in looking flamboyant, and almost as if they are from another world. This style of dressing was inspired by the occupation and colonization of the French, where many of the native residents of the Congo would try and emulate the Frenchmen who lived there. The need to imitate became a style and subculture all its own, the Sapeurs of the Congo are known for their elegance, classically dapper appearance, and their frequent gatherings, where they socialize and show off their newest outfits.
The word Sapeur is short for their organization, “Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes” (the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People). The impeccable, and gentlemanly style of a Sapeur is meticulously groomed and has become an expression of how these men feel on the inside. The extravagant clothing is a stark contrast to the poverty that surrounds them. Many of these men will spend as much as $3,000 on a pair of shoes for their wardrobe. While almost half of the people in the Congo live below the poverty line, Sapeurs dress like gentlemen because they feel they are gentlemen.
While this style may seem strictly materialistic, the Sapeurs are not millionaires, many of them work menial jobs, and don’t buy straight from Gucci and Valentino for their clothing. Many buy second hand, or from friends, some even make their own items! Also, being a Sapeur is not just about having fancy clothes, one must behave like a gentleman, not just dress the part. The Sapeurs are just as particular about how they walk, speak, as they are about their clothing. The philosophy of the Sapeurs is about exuding confidence and opulence, even when that is not the case. The Sapeurs of the Congo are true examples of fashion as an artform, they create an entire world for themselves, not letting their living situations stop them from being everything they feel that they are.