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La Sape (also known as The Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant People) is a subculture centered on the cities of Kinshasa and Brazzaville in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of Congo respectively. The name comes from the French slang word sape, which means "clothes" or "dressed up." La Sape aims to show elegance and style within fashion, similar to predecessors before. People who participate in the movement are called sapeurs.
La Sape fashion is diverse and experiments with a lot of styles. La Sape takes heavily from the Roaring Twenties culture of the 1920s, its origin decade, which correlates with a desire to be elegant and rich. Clothes are often obtained or sold secondhand from more first-world countries, notably France. Brands range from Weston, Kenzo, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, and more. Another important aspect of sapeur fashion is color combination. Clothes have to stand out, so sapeurs mix, match and combine different parts of their outfits to obtain a unique look. Said clothes are expensive however, therefore sapeurs save up a lot of money to get these outfits. Sapeurs tend to own multiple outfits rather than a singular outfit.
In recent years, females have begun to adopt the style as well. Sapeuses use the style to rebel against the status quo of being considered second-class citizens, where they dress the same as men.
A big part of sapeur culture is the competition aspect. On a typically-weekly basis, typically on Saturdays and Sundays, sapeurs prepare their outfits to show off in local fashion shows. The winner is determined by whose outfit can stand out the most. Sapuers have to show up on the stage for about four times each competition. Brazzaville is where La Sape is most popular.
There is criticism when it comes to La Sape. Most of all, one of these criticisms is that sapuers end up using the money they earn for themselves, rather than saving for food, family and other resources. Sapuers spend money on material possessions and high-price clothing while women and children are left to care for themselves. People have compared the movement to the Hypebeast culture, which implies that both flaunt their expensive clothes, and surround their personality around. As a result, buying expensive clothes even becomes an addiction to many sapuers.
Sapuers themselves consider their fashion to be a vital art form. As they live in areas of abject poverty where it is virtually impossible to hope for something better, they rebel in the best way available to them: by transforming themselves into living works of art and beauty. Because of this determination, they are arguably the best dressed people in the world, which is in itself a massive send-up of the wealthy and powerful.
Interestingly enough, OG Sapuers have their own personal code (similar to British the Dandies of the Victorian era) and many are Christian in their beliefs. (Many books on Dandism discuss this subject further.)
Sapuers have begun to appear in more popular culture in recent years. One such example is All The Stars by Kendrick Lamar and SZA, which features La Sape citizens within the music video. Jidenna's Classic Man also pays tribute to sapeur culture.
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