Elegance Senegalaise

I have been back home for 3 weeks now. I have not gone out much often. But my daily routine, which is to take my son school and back home, help me get a glimpse of what I would like to call Senegalese Elegance.

It could be hard to define Senegalese Fashion, without understanding Senegalese women. The Senegalese woman is usually a strong woman with a sense of who she is. Even if she is not really confident, she finds a way to express it to others. The Senegalese woman is also very bold. She rarely sits down and waits for things to happen to her. She is a go-getter in every sense of the word. She works hard to find a way of income, she works hard to find a man and to keep it; and she works hard to provide for her entire family. When in the past, she just used to take care of her home and children, now she is balancing work and family, becoming the provider and the caregiver at the same time. Furthermore, she is the pillar of the Senegalese society because she plays several roles; she is the daughter, the sister, the wife, the daughter in law, the mother and/or the grandmother.

Being such an important figure in the society goes hand in hand with what I would like to call flashy fashion. The Senegalese woman is not afraid to experiment when it comes to fashion. She will try several trends until she finds what is not always proper for her, but what she likes. For this reason, she is rarely afraid of colors, in her clothes, accessories and make up. Moreover, she will spend several amount of money to renew her closet more than twice a year, but also to buy expensive gold jewelry. Gold is very important because it is a form of investment. Inflation can happen and the value of the money can diminish. However, gold remains a stable currency in this world. That is why; many Senegalese women like to accumulate gold that they can exchange for money if ever they are short of cash in the future. Another sentimental value of gold is that you can pass it on to your daughters once they are grown.
What I like the most about Senegalese Elegance is what we call Traditional Attire. In reality we call it traditional, but these clothes have been so many times altered that you cannot find anything traditional about them. Mostly they are traditional Senegalese clothes that have been strongly influenced by Arabic style, or other western African countries. That is why even though we do have our traditional Booubou, we still wear Jellabah, Habbaya, Abeti, Anango. Walking on the streets of Dakar, you can find so many different styles, one even more beautiful than the others. You become so drunk of it. It is such a pleasure to watch a Senegalese woman wearing her traditional attire. Moreover, I noticed that more and more women do wear it for work or school. When I was still living here, women would seldom wear the attire: religious events, weddings, Fridays-which is the day of the common prayer for Muslims. I think that it was because the clothes used to be so big and uncomfortable that we could not evolve freely in them. But now there are so many different styles that are easy to wear, that it is not a hassle anymore.
And we have to thank our tailor for that. Senegalese women have to habit of having clothes being made by a tailor. When I was a kid, my parents would rarely buy me ready made clothes. Back then it was a luxury. You had to find a style that you liked (either on the a TV show like Beverly Hills or Telenovelas, or on fashion magazines), buy a cloth and have your tailor make it for you. Back then the tailors just limited themselves at copying what was presented to them. And very few of them would innovate. Those people were called designers, and quickly made a name for them in Senegal and in Africa. I think of women like Diouma Dieng, Colle Ardo and Oumou Sy.
Nowadays, anyone with a bit of inspiration and skills can become a famous designer. Tailors now excel in creating very beautiful yet elaborate styles. You can find very simple, but the trend is flashy and over the top. For example: when once, people would limit themselves at two rows of embroidery at the neckline; now they have the entire outfit embroidered. Moreover, they do add beads (that they call “perlage”) or stones. I am sure it is the main reason why the price for such Senegalese attire is so expensive.

images: courtesy Senvideo.tv posted by Bineta

Being a fashion icon does not mean that the Senegalese women is not also a fashion victim. At an early age, Senegalese women are exposed to what I would like to call Western fashion. We dress like French or American people. We prefer to buy everything that comes from European or American countries without necessarily understanding that they are not made for us. We mimic American stars such as Beyonce or Rihanna. A big drawback of this fact is that we tend to wear clothes that are not appropriate for our culture, which dictates us to be decent. Senegal being a country with a majority of Muslim, we do believe in covering up. However, young women around town (and I was the same at their age), show off their curves, legs, arms and breast with short skirts, tight jeans, and tops with cleavage or that expose the back. When I was younger, we would only dress outrageously or sexy when we would go out dancing or clubbing. However, nowadays, young girls dress indecently in broad daylight. And what I find most fascinating is that those girls do wear clothes that are not made for our weather. I was very surprised when after living in Japan for 3 years; I came home and saw some girls wearing leather pants and boots. Dakar, the city I live in can get cold but rarely goes below 20 even in our winter. That is why I had to laugh when I saw some ladies showing off their boots in the club.

Senegalese Elegance cannot be described in few words on a blog. You have to see it and live it to fully understand it. What I understand from living in the country (but also from living abroad) is that I do not have the Senegalese elegance. I do not spend most of my time trying to become beautiful by doing my hair, make up and buying new clothes and accessories. I prefer to go buy wearing a pair of jeans and some flats, whereas most Senegalese women would never be caught dead wearing something that simple outside their houses. Growing up as a tomboy, I still have this do not care attitude inside of me when it comes to fashion. And living abroad, where everybody tends to dress casual did not help me in any way. Some of my friends acknowledge that if I were to permanently live in Senegal, maybe I would change my ways. If I were to live in an environment when all my peers like to dress up even for work, I would be obliged to do the same. Soon, I would be transformed into a lady who wears make up every day, who goes to the salon regularly to do her hair, who frequently buys gold jewelry and/ or cloth to make beautiful Traditional outfits. I am not so sure if that change will come as easily as predicted. I guess I would just have to live here to be certain….


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