In the poverty-stricken slums of Congo lies a very unique and amazing subculture, one that puts the term ‘fashion victim’ on a whole other level.

Sapeurs, or Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People), is made up of a group of men who walk around in bright-colored suits, custom shoes and sharp ensembles that cost a fortune, a stark contrast to the neighborhood they live in. The movement was born during the early years of colonialism in Africa, when goods and services were traded for clothes brought from Europe.

The Congo dandies live by a strict fashion code: being a member of their gentleman’s club means having only originals — and lots of different outfits and accessories. But while they’re armed with a simple philosophy to defy circumstance and live with a joie de vivre, a sapeur runs into some complications as well: in order to maintain this extravagant lifestyle, some resort to burying themselves in debt, or to stealing.

Flamboyant, respected, revered: as they walk around the slums they live in, people hail them “the god of clothes” or “the pride of our area.” Perhaps seeing one of their own in dapper Parisian fashion provides them a true aspirational character. They represent the triumph of hope over the hand-to-mouth existence which is their reality for most of the country.

Watch the mini-documentary on this amazing subculture by Guiness below:

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Photo credits: Hector Mediavilla (1-3), (4,5), Badouin Mouanda (6)