C’est Quoi la Sapelogie?
Written by: Onyedikachi Achilike
A dandy is a man who exudes extreme elegance in clothes and mannerism, and this defines the essence of the Congolese fashion cult, “Les Sapeurs”. These men can be seen dawned in meticulously color coordinated suits, wingtips, Scottish kilts, silk handkerchiefs, and anything one would readily associate with a dandily clad man. “It’s the fetishization of fashion, they are the worshipers of fashion, it’s their god, it’s powerful,” says Didier Gondola, author of “History of the Congo,” who has extensively researched the Sapeurs. They also adhere to a strict moral code that is equally important as their dressing. One of their codes reads “A real Sapeur needs to be cultivated and speak fluently, but also have a solid moral ethic: that means beyond the appearance and vanity of smart, expensive clothing there is the moral nobility of the individual”
Origins of Sapeurism can be traced back to 19th century when French colonial masters would pay their slaves in clothes, who would then put their own twist and show it off. “It’s about a lot of things, about beating the West at its own game, which is fashion: You colonized us but we dress better than you” says Gondola. “I remember reading about them and thinking it was the most interesting and complex and unique thing that I had seen in a long time” says Solange Knowles. The singer recently featured them on the video for her “loosing you” single.
Although the sight of a Dandy living in Congo is a clear juxtaposition of their poverty stricken environment, it is sight of hope. It’s amazing for a subculture of this sort to be born out of abject poverty. They are showing the rest of the world that there is more to Africa than just slums and swollen bellies of young ones. “It’s politics, spiritual, aesthetic, social, and so many things,” says Gondola. “It’s a whole science, they are artists.”