Guinness on the Sapeurs: The Men Inside the Suits

Ever since Solange Knowles featured the sapeurs—Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People)—in one of her music videos, I’ve been entranced. I did a minor in Postcolonial Studies in college, but rarely is there a colonial vestige as sartorially interesting as the style of the sapeurs. I love that Guinness not only used them in an ad, with the feel-good message that we dictate our fates by our attitudes, but also made a mini documentary about the sapeurs themselves.

While this kind of opulent dressing is reserved for the upper class in some countries, the sapeurs are Congolese everymen. In a war-ravaged country, these men are reinventing the art of being a gentleman—it’s not just about dressing well, but about behaving with civility, foregoing aggression, and presenting a composed demeanor in the face of extremities. NPR  had an article about the sapeurs in the spring of last year. From it, one quote in particular stood out to me:

But it’s not all about the conspicuous consumerism. “Creativity is very important,” says [Spanish photographer Hector] Mediavilla. “It’s not only about spending a lot of money on the clothes, but also the way they speak, the way they move. … It’s a way of presenting their lives and being somebody in a society that doesn’t give you many opportunities. … It’s about [being] confident in oneself despite the circumstances.”

So thanks, Guinness, for sharing the sapeurs story!