DANDY: a man unduly concerned with looking stylish and fashionable.
Words: Brooklyn J. Pakathi
Records of African dandy men go back as far as the 18th century. In recent years Black Dandyism has become an increasingly documented global phenomenon from New York City to London’s Saville Row to Brazzaville in the Congo. Dandyism is about style, dignity, pride, self-respect and self-expression. It has history and heritage, taking the best of traditional European fashion and adding African flair and colour. Dandyism is more than a fashion trend, it is a code of living and in some places borders on religion.
No-one exemplifies the Dandy movement more than the Sapeurs, a subculture of extraordinarily well dressed Dandies from the Congo. In the midst of their war-torn slums, these men dress in tailored suits and stroll the impoverished streets in immaculate footwear.
Dandyism is more than a fashion trend, it is a code of living and in some places borders on religion.
A Sapeur must have the sartorial know-how. Socks should be a certain height, a maximum of three colors can be used in one outfit and great attention to detail is required. They consider their style an art form, the art of being a gentleman, which goes beyond dress code and requires impeccable manners and carrying oneself with elegance.
A Sapeur is likely to spend as much on an imported Italian-made suit jacket as he is on a house in the Congo’s capital Kinshasa. The movement is morphing more and more into a craze for expensive French and Italian designer labels. Many of today’s younger Sapeurs wear color-blinding outfits that cost upwards of $10,000 and attend weekly ‘throw downs’, competing to see who’s wearing the most expensive designer labels. Many of them struggle to make a living out of the rubble that remains in their war-torn hometowns.
Iconic ‘dandy’ designer, Paul Smith wrote: “It is incredible enough today to see men dressed so elegantly in capital cities like Paris or London, let alone in the Congo. Their attention to detail, their use of colour, all set against the environment they live in, is just fantastic”.
Speaking to the Daily Beast, well-known rap singer Jidenna said, “All across this world, especially within the African diaspora, we feel like there is a constant devaluing of our culture and our livelihood. That devaluing makes certain men around the world say, ‘You know what, I am valuable and I feel valuable and I’m going to dress valuable. I’m going to make sartorial choices that show the value I feel about myself.’”
I am valuable and I feel valuable and I’m going to dress valuable.
To be able to dress yourself up in such a flamboyant and precise way and still celebrate your manhood, that’s special. Black Dandy movement members are changing the way Black manhood is viewed and perceived. The Dandylion project sums it up well, “Men of African descent were dandy and fine well before fine and dandy was even a “thing” by Europeans or anyone else for that matter. Here’s to rebellious black men around the world, whose sartorial decisions are challenging mainstream narratives of Black masculinity, creating a space for elaboration on elegance and allowing a moment for us to indulge in collective nostalgia”.
Photography: Tony Mac and Harness Hamese
Research: Nicola Cooper