Fashion is closely based on culture and cultural history which is what makes fashion so interesting. Brands like Daily Paper use traditional African prints and patterns as inspiration for its collections, but there exists a whole other world of fashion subcultures in Africa worth exploring. Africa is a massive continent, so large in fact that the United States, Europe, China, and India combined can fit in the landmass. With the size of the continent and around one billion people living in Africa, it’s no wonder there as so many cultures in these 54 distinct countries. Below are five fashion subcultures you probably didn’t know Africa had.
La Sape (or Sapeurs)
Found in the Congo, SAPE stands for La Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (The Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People) and this subculture definitely stayed true to the name. Using exaggerated Western suits and dandy style, they use the look to draw attention and social status to themselves. After Colonial times dressing this way was a way to define themselves and refuse being stripped of their humanity, and of course to show that Africans can also have elegance.
Much like the Sapeur style, the South African Swenka or “swanking” was a way for working-class people to present themselves in their best wears. Often Swenkas engaged in competitions to decide who looked the best, with a prize for the winner.
In Namibia, the Herero tribe faced extermination at the hands of the German colonialists during the 1904 Herero-German war. As a reminder of their struggle, the Herero wear clothing inspired by the Victorian era, because if a warrior killed a German soldier he would wear their uniform as a badge of honor, and appropriate their power. It has now become very much of their cultural identity.
Ukukhotana (or Izikhothane)
Slang for “to like” or “to boast", the South African, Jo Burg based subculture focused on showing off their status by buying luxury Italian brands. The idea for them is that the way you dress defines your character as well as your income. This subculture is most notable for its flamboyant actions of displaying wealth by burning money or purposely destroying expensive clothing or iPhones. By doing this they are saying that they are able to waste these items because they have enough money to buy more.
In Botswana there is a phenomenon of leather-clad “metal heads” that wear 1980/1990’s rock and metal inspired gear. Typically adorned with spiked cuffs, bandanas, rock band t-shirt, bullet belts and leather clothing, this subculture is more metal than most. Botswana is not typically what you would expect when you think of metal.