Think you have what it takes to join the Congolese Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant Persons? My friend, I am sorry to say that you do not. SAPE members, or “sapeurs,” have an eye for style so acute that even though some of them make just $100 a year, they can manage to look like they stepped out of a GQ. No, you know what, that’s giving GQ too much credit. Sapeurs look like GQ should be hiring them to usher in a new level of groundbreaking men’s fashion.
For the full effect, check out this short documentary made by Guinness about these paragons of style:
“When a sapeur is well-dressed, people forget their problems,” says one of the men interviewed in the Guinness mini-doc. Congo-Brazzaville has a lot of problems, so it’s a good thing they’re VERY well-dressed.
The country, also known as the Republic of Congo, has been deporting tens of thousands of citizens of the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo back to the DRC, and the United Nations says that it has “received reports of physical abuse, ill treatment, and sexual violence inflicted on the citizens of DRC who are being expelled.”
Musée de l'histoire de l'immigration, Flickr.
But even in a country troubled with strife, poverty, and human rights abuses, it’s possible for something truly bright to survive. The sapeur movement has its roots in colonialism — dressing up “savages” in Western clothes — but is now a tradition of its own, not to mention a sartorial and financial problem-solving challenge. Sapeurs wear no more than three colors at once (not counting white) so their brilliant outfits incorporate several shades of the same hue. And designer or at least high-quality duds are essential, which means some creative sourcing (some of the black-market variety, some communal — many sapeurs share suits and accessories). In other words, to paraphrase Dolly Parton, it costs almost nothing to look this expensive.