Lights May Flicker but Looks Stay Sharp

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the birthplace of SAPE, a loosely organized cult of dandies known as “les sapeurs.” SAPE is an abbreviation of the group’s name, which in English translates as the Society of Ambience and Elegant People. The contrast between the extravagance of their attire and the hardships of their lives has the effect of highlighting the dignity of their code. Indeed, dressing well is part of the culture there.

“Everybody wears these amazing colorful clothes and are so eager to show who they are,” Ms. Harris said of the people in Goma.

Ms. Harris was in Congo on a fellowship documenting energy poverty. She wanted to capture how people, many of whom don’t have reliable electricity or access to water, maintain pride in their appearance. In Goma, 14 of 18 neighborhoods in the city experience rolling blackouts on a daily basis.

“When I talked to people in Congo, they would say that, despite all the struggles and despite all the misery, pride in the way they dress is something they take really seriously,” she said. “They make sure their whites are super-white and their clothes are super clean.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the birthplace of SAPE, a loosely organized cult of dandies known as “les sapeurs.” SAPE is an abbreviation of the group’s name, which in English translates as the Society of Ambience and Elegant People. The contrast between the extravagance of their attire and the hardships of their lives has the effect of highlighting the dignity of their code. Indeed, dressing well is part of the culture there.

“Everybody wears these amazing colorful clothes and are so eager to show who they are,” Ms. Harris said of the people in Goma.

Ms. Harris was in Congo on a fellowship documenting energy poverty. She wanted to capture how people, many of whom don’t have reliable electricity or access to water, maintain pride in their appearance. In Goma, 14 of 18 neighborhoods in the city experience rolling blackouts on a daily basis.

“When I talked to people in Congo, they would say that, despite all the struggles and despite all the misery, pride in the way they dress is something they take really seriously,” she said. “They make sure their whites are super-white and their clothes are super clean.”

“These two necklaces mean a lot to me,” said Olivier Bayongwa, a musician known as El’Weezya Fantastikoh. “The first one shows a pharaoh and the Egyptian pyramids. The second one is Versace and is a gift from my girlfriend.” His dreadlocks hair style is not as common in Goma as in the United States. “Women tend to get a lot of braids and weaves, and the men are into the faded cuts,” Ms. Harris said, “so it was really cool to see somebody who had this kind of hairstyle.”