Fashion and Sapology In The DRC

Fashion and Sapology In The DRC

Bold, Bright and Brilliant. These are just a few words I can use to describe the spectacular prints and fabrics used in creating Congolese fashion. Congolese styles are created to make you stand out from the crowd unlike western trends.

The Congolese traditional clothing is namely known as Liputa. This means the wearing of colourful materials. Both men and women can wear these types of fabrics. Most of the time they can be found in the markets.


In the 1970s the streets of Kinshasa perceived a new sub culture known as sapologists, sapology, les sapeurs or la sape. This is a lifestyle built on a set of principles. These principles being dress neat, with honour and inspire the rest. Basically, this refers to a group of elegant and tidy looking gentlemen, who pledge their money and time on dressing extraordinarily well.

Where did sapology originate?

By 1960, when both the Republic of the Congo and its neighbour the Democratic Republic of the Congo found independence, sapology became a means of empowerment all over kinshansa and brazaville – two African capitals facing each other across the Congo River.

One of the founders of the Sapeur drive and also a highly valued figure amongst the Sapeur community is Strevos Niarcos. He unfortunately died over 9 years ago. Niarcos strongly encouraged, and was considered by many as the “Father of Sapology”. Until today sapeurs still gather in Gombe cemetery at his graveside with their most thrilling outfits.  

Sapology has also managed to cross over to many countries onto the wider Congolese diaspora (Congo-Kinshasa and Congo Brazzavile) living across the world.  In the early 80s and 90s, the media talked a lot about this phenomenon. They followed Sapeurs on shopping trips and featured special programmes on TV to talk about Sapology. 

Sapology rules

Being a Sapeur means so much more than just wearing the latest fashion. For most congolese, it is a way of life, a code and others going as far as saying it is a religion. Therefore, just like all other religions, they’re rules to be followed to be considered a true sapeur.

As a general rule all Sapeurs should aim to be well-mannered and abide by the law. They should also be well dressed, fragranced and groomed, wear designer clothes, and have a clean haircut. These are the necessary ingredients to being a true Sapeur. However these principles may vary slightly depending on individual style or preference and even which Congo you are from!

The Sapeurs from Congo Brazzaville tend to stick to wearing no more than three colours/tones at once, excluding white. Pocket handkerchiefs are not folded but instead stuffed into the blazer pocket smoothly. Brazzaville Sapeurs prefer to match and accessorise with canes, cigars, umbrellas, scarves and socks suspenders.

On the contrary Kinshasa Sapeurs have a tendency to be more bright and bold. For them the more colour incompatibility there is the better. Sapeurs from the DRC are known for standing out from the crowd with one of the favourite designers being Yohji Yamamoto.

During fashion battles most Sapeurs often open their suit jackets abruptly and stomp in an imposing manner in order to show which brand/label they are wearing. Sapeurs also like to show off their shoes, most of which are usually J.M Weston a high-priced French shoemaker)

Is sapology affecting the congolese community?

We are increasingly seeing more and more of the traditional African/Congolese “Liputa” being adapted to suit western style on the High Street.  However, in the DRC and neighbouring Congo, dressing traditionally has almost become a thing of the past. Traditional forms of dress are being pushed out, and increasingly substituted by Westernised fashions.  

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