Earlier this year, Guinness released a new advert for their beer, as well as a short documentary, featuring the sapeurs. This re-launched international interest in the stylish group of gentlemen from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The word sape stands for la Société des Ambianceurs et Persons Élégants (English: The Society for the Advancement of Elegant People). In French, the word sapeur refers to a person that dresses with elegance and style.
While it’s unknown when the movement actually began, André Matsoua, a 20th century Congolese political figure, is known as the first Grand Sapeur. He was one of the first to return to Brazzaville from Paris with a wardrobe full of European clothing. By the 70s, the movement’s popularity reached its peak as it gained support from the popular musician Papa Wemba.
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The sapeurs are working-class men from all professions, such as taxi drivers, carpenters, and gravediggers. In Sapology, there is an emphasis on style and personal hygiene. These gentlemen are governed by morals such as non-violence and not getting publicly intoxicated. The sapeurs follow strict style rules, such as not wearing more than 3 colours at a time, not counting white of course. They can be spotted wearing Scottish kilts, handmade Italian ties, and French crocodile shoes. To add on, the sapeurs accessorize with colourful umbrellas, pocket squares, canes, and vintage pipes.
These fashion conscious men believe in the “uplifting, redeeming, beatifying effect of dressing well.” While they enjoy each other’s company in local pubs, they also take the opportunity to show off their style and dance moves to inquisitive onlookers.
For the sapeurs, “it’s not the cost of the suit that counts, it’s the worth of the man inside.”
Enjoy Solange’s “Losing You” video with cameos from the sapeurs: