In the last year, mainstream media has developed a fixation on the “exotic” nature of African members of the Societé des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People) — also known as the sapeurs — rather than on the story behind the look:
It’s easy to understand why the sapeurs have been such a constant source of attention: their look and stories are fascinating, and for a country where nearly half the Congolese live at or below the national poverty line, citizens choosing to spend what little money they make on a distinctive wardrobe makes for an interesting story. But what many of these outlets miss is that most great post-World Wars fashion movements have come out of places attempting to rebuild after a devastating war and prolonged political or economic strife. It is usually the younger generation that creates its own style out of the ashes, donning whatever telegraphs a sense of greatness and affluence, mixing decades if they must, to get an original look. Examples range from the mod and Teddy Boy subcultures that started in England to the Rude Boy style that came out of the poorer sections of Kingston, Jamaica in the 1960s. While these contexts might not compare to the horrific violence of the Second Congo War (which technically ended in 2003, although the violence still continues in parts of the country), there is a definite connection between lower-class English and Jamaican youths and the sapeurs: youths forging (or foraging) an identifiable style in a place and time when others are just trying to survive.
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