La Sape: Tracing the History and Future of the Congos’ Well-dressed Men
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This thesis explores the past, current, and future significance of la Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elégantes (la Sape), a social movement of well-dressed men that began in the two Congos in the 1980s. Sapeurs, members of la Sape, spend large sums of money on designer clothes, which they show off at social gatherings and use as a signifier of identity and community. Over the decades, la Sape has received more Western media attention, as it has increasingly become an international movement. In particular, Sapeur communities have developed within the larger African diaspora in France and Belgium, the former colonizers of the Republic of the Congo (ROC) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), respectively. The largest Sapeur communities are in Paris and Brussels, although smaller communities have popped up in other fashion capitals such as London. I conducted field research in Paris and Brussels in January 2017, interviewing a diverse group of Sapeurs and others connected to the movement. The Sapeurs were primarily from one of the two Congos, although a few were born in Europe. Coming from different generations, places, and backgrounds, they represent the diversity of la Sape. I also interviewed members of other dandy and fashion movements connected to la Sape. My field research responded to and informed the four central questions of this thesis.