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Photo by Elke Schmidt, Senegal Bridge Year Program.

Some Thoughts on Fashion

At prep school (hey Lawrenceville, hi Mrs. Calvert!), you basically saw two outfits. You were either wearing Bean Boots, Lululemon leggings, and an oversized sweater/sweatshirt with a Barbour jacket; or you were wearing Timbs, nantucket red pants or chubbies (depending on the weather), a button-down, and a cap of some kind. There were trends and you followed the trends and what trends you did or didn’t follow symbolized what type of human you were (preppy, hipster, edgy, etc). Boy oh boy do humans love putting over humans in boxes, my dude.

In Senegal, it doesn’t quite work that way. When it comes to fashion, the most typical form of clothes shopping is purchasing about 6 square meters of fabric and then having it tailored into something wearable. Now you may be thinking, “aren’t custom-made clothes only for red-carpet celebs and fashion models?” Well, maybe in the United States, but here, having clothes tailored not only allows for creative license when it comes to fashion but is also the cheaper option than buying clothes pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear).

There are a lot of different types of fabric: Wax, the fabric that comes in unbelievable colors and patterns; SS, the silky fabric that definitely could make a solid outfit for a Gatsby party; Bazin-riche, the heavy, shiny fabric perfect for weddings and baptisms, and so many more that I have yet to discover. But for this update, I want to focus on Wax. It comes in a multitude of different colors and patterns. So many, in fact, that not only is there not one specific article of clothing that anybody who’s anybody totally has (think: Adidas Superstars), but I seldom see two people ever even wearing the same print. And because everything is tailored by hand, the probability of getting two articles of clothing that have exactly the same cut, even from the same tailor, is zero.

This, as you may imagine, gives rise to a lot of creative license. You go to the wax butik and you find a wax that you think is pretty. And as likely as not, very few people have ever worn that pattern before. And then you take your wax to the tailor, either with a model in mind or to use one of the tailor’s models, or even to just say, “I want a taille-basse (two piece ensemble), surprise me.” And you go back three days later and become the proud owner of an article of clothing that has never before existed and never will exist again. And it’s all from you. It’s what you want to wear, not what everyone around you is also wearing, not what you think wearing will make you cool, but colors, patterns, and a style that you love. Essentially, your style becomes a reflection of you and not of your social label.

And, potentially the best part of it all, people will appreciate your style. Everytime I walk down the street in any Senegalese clothing, regardless of the type of fabric, print or model, I get compliments. People can appreciate my style for what it is, without my having to conform.

That’s what I love about fashion here – everyday, I see someone wearing a beautiful taille-basse or dress, and I think, “I want something like that.” And then that person has disappeared into the crowd or onto a bus and is gone, and I know that I’ll never be able to get one exactly like that. It’s uniquely that person’s, and what I’m wearing is uniquely mine, and mungi dox.