The Religion of Clothes - The Congo Dandies!
Updated: Mar 5, 2020
Fashion gives us the freedom of expression and expression has never come more easily than for the Congo dandies also known as La Sape. La Sape in full is La Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, in English - The Society of Ambience and People of Elegance. The verb 'se saper' – means to dress elegantly. La Sape is a fashion movement from Africa specifically in both the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and its smaller bordering namesake country Congo better known as Congo Brazzaville. The movement began in the 1950s inspired by admiration of their French colonial masters’ way of dressing. It popularized in the late 1970s via the late Papa Wemba also known as the King of La Sape. Papa Wemba was a legendary musician from DRC. He dressed in elaborate outfits and designer labels during live performances, music videos and public appearances. This excited his large fan base and they aspired to dress like him. That was when the La Sape subculture cemented itself. A sapeur (male) or a sapuese (female) is an impeccably dressed, well-mannered, and groomed individual with a passion for high end designer brands.
The Commandments of La Sape
1. Be a connoisseur of clothing
A Sapeur knows their clothing from the designer brands, to styling, colour coordination and has an impressive sense of style and elegance.
Like most subcultures, La Sape has an exclusive greeting. They rub the front and the side of their heads together. They also have special dandie meetings to catch up and show off their latest styles.
3. Code of Ethics
Not only is La Sape about clothing and fashion but it is also governed by a strict code of ethics based on grooming, hygiene and behaviour. The most important one being peace. A sapeur should never be violent or vulgar but rather polite and chilvarous.
4. Colour, Colour & Colour
A Sapeur is never afraid of colour. Be it a bright orange monochromatic suit or a mix and match of neutral colours. A Sapeur knows how to harmonize colours but never wearing more than three colours at once, it is part of the code.
5. Confidence and flamboyance
Confidence is key and a little cockiness is necessary. One has to be flamboyant in the way they walk, dance and display the name brands on their clothing. Brands like Giorgio Armani, YSL, Versace, Kenzo, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. Basically the world is their runway and they are the peacocks.
6. Dressing the part means spending the cash
No amount of money is too much for a pair of Weston shoes. If it’s designer it definitely costs a lot of money, but it looks good and gives them confidence then it’s worth every cent. La Sape is not fazed by the amount. They take loans, saves up to even three years for the perfect suit. Looking good has no price limit.
References to La Sape in Pop Culture
Sapologie has been featured in Solange’s music video ‘Losing You’ and was an inspiration for Paul Smith’s SS/2010 collection.
Paul Smith Spring/Summer 2010
La Sape are local celebrities in their own towns. They are recognised, respected and appreciated by the people in their local areas. A sapeur has a true love and respect for clothing and conveys that through cultivating creative style and elegance. La Sape embodies the spirit of joy and happiness that we experience from dressing well and feeling confident in our fit.
Afrosartorialism. (2016). Papa Wemba, le Pape de la Sape. [online] Available at: https://afrosartorialism.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/papa-wemba-le-pape-de-la-sape/
GidiBlog | Gidi Culture. (2009). GENTLEMEN OF BAKONGO: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ELEGANT x DANIELE TAMAGNI. [online] Available at https://gidiculture.wordpress.com/2009/12/17/gentlemen-of-bakongo-the-importance-of-being-elegant-x-daniele-tamagni/
Le Monde.fr. (2016). Les sapeurs de Kinshasa se disputent l’héritage de Papa Wemba. [online] Available at: https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2016/04/27/les-sapeurs-de-kinshasa-se-disputent-l-heritage-de-papa-wemba_4909399_3212.html