Le Sape is a subculture based in a republic of Congo. Le Sapeurs consider themselves to be the best dressed and best behaved gentlemen on the planet. They devote their income to purchasing fine clothing and accessories, believing they improve the morale of their neighborhoods by being an example of couture and courtesy to others.
In the midst of the poorest slums, these men consider sapologie also as a political statement. The suit, shirt, and tie symbolize the break with the country’s colonial past, when men were forced to wear a Mao-style tunics. Sapologie serves today as something closer to a religion; a way of living.
“A Congolese sapeur is a happy man even if he does not eat, because wearing proper clothes feeds the soul and gives pleasure to the body.”
Le Sape is short for Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, or the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the average annual income is about US$100, among the lowest in the world. Many of today’s younger followers of Sape wear color-blinding outfits that costs upwards of $10,000 and attend weekly ‘throw downs’, competing to see who’s wearing the most expensive designer labels.
In their everyday lives, the Sapeurs are farmers, taxi drivers, carpenters and labourers – ordinary working men. But after their day’s work, they transform. Within their local communities, they are a source of inspiration and positivity. They convene and talk – about “life, their family, helping people get back on track” – and dance or engage in friendly competition.
In typical dandy fashion, the Sapeurs consider themselves artists and are respected and admired in their communities. Sapeurs are typically invited to events such as weddings to add a touch of elegance to special occasions. Yet quite uncharacteristic is the Sapeur’s code of conduct, being a Sapeur is not only about dressing and looking amazing, it is also about impeccable manners. It is about style, it is about gestures that differentiate one Sapeur from others. A Sapeur has to be respectful, non-violent, well-mannered and an inspiration through their attitude and behavior.
One of the Sapeurs, Hassan, describes being a Sapeur to being like a “star”. He says that when a well-dressed Sapeur walks down the street, people “forget their problems”.