An Article about Sapeurs (LONG POST)
Lately I’ve been fascinated by a unique group of African men called the Sapeurs. These black dandies are working-class men from the Congo who, for a variety of reasons, love to dress up regularly in their best outfits.
The biggest rule of Sapeur style is that no outfit can have more than three colors or tones. This hails back to the days of early French colonialism that had similar rules regarding how dandies were to dress. I love the effect this has in their overall look. Every outfit pops and works in an amazingly coordinated way.
Sapeur style also seems to lean towards solids and basic patterns, usually large ones like windowpane and stripes. I like the way that emphasizes the colors in the overall look.
What the Sapeurs’ style is really all about is more than just nice clothes. The culture comes from dandyism, a style that has existed for many, many years as a reflection of elegance and poise. Middle-class men in particular have been dandies, as they turn to the fashion to both hide their less-than noble family history and to reflect an inner tranquility. The Sapeurs’ way of life is that of non-violence, politeness, and elegance in all actions. Their group is also political; Sapeurs wish to end the sterotype of a poor, ragged, and ugly Africa. They call this SAPE, which means the Society for the Advancement of Elegant People, and these men are definitely that.
While the Sapeur culture is mostly male-dominated there are some women who are on the scene. While I am not equipped to comment on women’s fashion, I really like the look the woman in the middle of this picture pulls off, even if it reminds me of disco.
Unusual accessories in Sapeur fashion are pipes and cigars. These pieces are never lit, but rather are used to complete the neo-Victorian look Sapeurs love.
In a nation that is constantly plagued by war, famine, and strife, the Sapeurs bring a ray of hope and joy to the people of their communities. Sapeurs are often asked to attend weddings and other special events so that a further touch of class and royalty is added to what are otherwise fairly plain celebrations.
The SAPE began as early as 1920, during the final days of French colonization. Sapeurs usually pass down their love of style and grace to their children, who do the same. The man in this photo is a second-generation Sapeur, whose son is also apart of the SAPE. He says that one day his grandsons will also be in the SAPE.
What is beautiful to me about the Sapeurs is that they represent hope in the Congo. They show me how even in poverty and difficult times people are able to find a way to express themselves and their individuality. To me, that’s what wearing good clothes is all about.