These elegant men called “Sapeurs” are part of the “SAPE” (Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes), a social movement in which men dress in the most elegant clothes. They are very proud of their style because they wear some really expensive clothes such as $500 designer suits!
The “SAPE” is perhaps the most peculiar movement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo because they combine the style and social revolution from the 20s, no wonder they have become so popular.
Source: Héctor Mediavilla
This movement emerged as a form of civil disobedience during the military dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire. This fashion trend started after it was banned to dress in Western-style clothing because they wanted the people to dress in traditional African clothing.
The “Great Sapeur”
Source: Héctor Mediavilla
The man who inspired this movement was the so-called “Grand Sapeur" André Grenard Matsoua, who after returning from Paris, wearing Western suits began this trend. His style became very popular and other men started to dress like him buying clothing of European origin.
They don’t care about the price tag
The sapeurs love European style especially French clothes that come directly from Paris. If these stylish men like something, they will not hesitate to buy it, regardless of the price tag.
Sapeurs and music
The Sapeur movement and the Congolese rumba emerged in Kinshasa and Brazzaville. The renowned musician Papa Wemba created music inspired by this movement; King Kester Emeneya, a famous singer in Congo said that “the white man invented the clothes, but we turned them into art."
Sapeurs became quite popular
A lot of different men in the Brazzaville district were inspired to join the sapeurs, despite the fact that they are used to living off of 30 cents per day. Some of them would rather spend tons of money on clothes than on a house.
The Congolese men, who traveled to Paris and then returned with French clothes, were considered as Grand Sapeurs, because of their new style. They say a real Sapeur has to visit Paris at least once in his lifetime.
They don’t wear fakes
These men don’t like wearing fakes because they think that everyone else will notice. Some of their favorite brands are Kenzo, Armani, and Yves Saint Laurent.
The Sapeurs have their own rules: you need to be creative, wear flashy colors and designer brands; they even need to walk a certain way. When they go out to the streets, they want everyone to look at them and their unique style.
The sapeurs are willing to do anything in order to wear the most stylish clothes. Some of them wear second-hand clothes, while other get their clothes from relatives who are living abroad. It’s amazing how they spend hundreds of dollars on clothes when their average yearly income is $100!
Solid moral ethic
According to Sapeurs: Meet the Sapeurs of Congo by Valerie Rain, “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.”
Sapeurs believe that this movement focuses on developing impeccable taste, expensive clothes are important, but the most important thing is to always look stylish and elegant
Among the young Sapeurs there is a subgroup called "Picadilly" in which all the member wear kilts. They use them to honor Prince Charles, who is considered one of the most stylish men on the planet.
Sapeurs love wearing different accessories such as silk socks, fedoras, and canes. These men definitely know how to accessorize!
Gentlemen of Bacongo
Italian photographer Daniel Tamagni compiled the fascinating style of the Sapeurs in his book "Gentlemen of Bacongo". Tamagni spent some time documenting everything about their lifestyle.
Another interesting fact is that some women are actually inspired by the Sapeurs so they dress with elegant, colorful clothes and call themselves “Sapeuses”.
The sapeurs have become really famous for their unique and extravagant style. Several newspapers like The Telegraph and The Guardian have featured these stylish men. In 2014 Guinness beer brand released its latest advertising campaign featuring the sapeurs.
Part of a tradition
The Sapeurs belong to a tradition that has been passed down from father to son for many generations in the Congo. It is very common to see on the streets of Congo little children walking with a cane in hand, wearing a fancy suit.
The men inside the suits
Freelance photographer Héctor Mediavilla has traveled and explored Africa throughout the years. In 2003 he arrived in the Republic of Congo for some photography workshops and was overwhelmed with the stylish Sapeurs. He filmed the short documentary called "The men inside the suits" which portrays the life of these intriguing characters.
They borrow each other’s clothes
Sapeurs don’t think that money is the most important thing; they have a very common phrase that says “It is not about the value of the suit, but the value of the person who wears it" so they have no problem using someone else’s clothes.
Undoubtedly the Sapeurs have revolutionized fashion with their extravagant style. Expensive suits are part of their wardrobe but what they really care about is having a unique fashion sense!