The Congo Dandies: living in poverty and spending a fortune to look like a million dollars
“La Sape” is a unique movement based in Congo that unites fashion-conscious men who are ready to splurge money they don’t really have on designer clothes. Dressing in stark contrast with their surroundings, these elegant ambiance-makers become true local celebrities… but this fame comes at a price.
The Republic of the Congo in Central Africa can’t boast of high standards of living. Yet, there are men here who are prepared to spend a fortune on designer suits. They call themselves “sapeurs” – members of the “La Sape” movement. “La Sape” comes from French and stands for “The Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People”. For its adherents, it’s all about style and elegance, the right combination of colours and textures, brand-names and the highest quality materials. They derive true joy from showing off their attire on the streets of Brazzaville – the country’s capital and the centre of the “La Sape” movement. Walking down dusty streets lined with clay houses, they turn heads and feel like kings. And there’s no price they won’t pay for this.
In fact, behind the image of success these dandies project, there are often stories of significant financial troubles caused by their extravagant hobby. To afford the price tag of their designer clothes, “sapeurs” have to save, borrow and even steal money, sometimes bringing ruin to their families. But even the grim consequences of their indulgent dressing habits often don’t stop “sapeurs” from spending money they don’t really have. They are in constant competition with each other and investing in their image is more important to them than improving their living conditions. Dressing smartly becomes a true addiction that is very hard to conquer.
However, some “sapeurs” do strive to find a balance between looking chic and being reasonable with their spending. They insist that the “La Sape” movement isn’t about designer suits but rather developing impeccable taste. They make an emphasis on learning to dress well but within one’s means. This way, style and elegance will demand fewer sacrifices from their devotees and will be accessible to more sophisticated men.
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