04/10/2011 § 1 Comment
The current “State of Man” issue of the Wall Street Journal Magazine has a fascinating article written by Tom Downey about Congolese dandies, or “Sapeurs.” In the two Congos, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbor the Republic of the Congo, it is still a struggle for many to meet their own basic human needs. Violence is a daily part of life. Severe poverty is rampant. And yet, impossibly, there exists a small group of men who make it the main priority of their lives to outdo each other with exceedingly extravagant (and sometimes bordering on outlandish) suiting and accessories.
On their idiosyncratic and highly ritualized approach to their individual style:
The general rule for Brazza Sapes is said to be that they wear no more than three colors at a time. In fact what this seems to mean is three tones, not counting white. Pocket squares aren’t folded but stuffed in and left to spill out, rakishly. Patch pockets abound, an unconventional feature on most jackets. The outfits are dandyish, but they don’t come off as costumes. Some Sapes boast of their brands, especially their shoe brands, of which J.M. Weston, a fine and expensive French shoemaker, seems to be the most prominent. But most Sapes agree that brand isn’t everything—it’s about fit, confidence and, as Hassan Salvador tells me, art: “We need to paint with colors, patterns and textures,” he says. “All week I mull over the different possible combinations of jacket, trousers, pocket square, tie, tie pin, scarf, umbrella and suspenders before I actually put on the clothes.”
On how Congolese society perceives these men:
“The Sapeurs can only exist in peacetime,” Atipault told me. “To me they’re a sign of better things: stability, tranquility. They indicate that our nation is returning to normal life after years of civil war.”