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Making a Fashion Statement in Congo

Since the 1920s, the sapeurs of the Congo have been making sartorial statements on the streets of Brazzaville and Kinshasa. British photographer Tariq Zaidi documented sapeurs, sapeuses and younger mini sapes at home in their low-income communities. Brazzaville and Kinshasa are on opposite banks of the Congo River, almost directly across from one another, yet they have different styles. In Brazzaville, La Sape is mainly “French style” (which means exquisite suits), but in Kinshasa anything goes, from Japanese Yamamoto coats to Scottish kilts.’ Though the subculture is traditionally passed down through the male line, many Congolese women began donning designer suits and becoming sapeuses. By challenging Congolese patriarchal society in this way, they are returning to La Sape’s origins by reversing power dynamics.