Fashion in Senegal

Kali Regenvanu - Senegal


January 9, 2020

Hello hello hello dear friends! 
It has been four months since I arrived here in Thies, Senegal and I have to say one of the things I have loved and admired the most since being here (apart from my amazing host family and friends here) is the fashion. 
Creativity is abundant here in Thies, and on that note in all of Senegal. Your look for the day is important. You can’t just go outside in your pyjamas here; dressing up is the absolute norm and expectation. And there isn’t just one way to dress up to go out. People here are genuinely so creative. From more traditional clothing, to twists on traditional clothing, to more so called ‘western’ clothing and mixes of those too, there is so much style going on here. 
The colours are absolute and vivid in every sense. People burst with colour everywhere they go. Outfits are often made of wax (a type of fabric) and usually the wax I come across is extremely colourful and bright. There is hardly any plain wax… I don’t even think I have seen any. If the colour is plain, there is surely a pattern. Never a dull moment for fashion here! 
I was thinking that part of this urge to decorate the self and the surroundings comes from the fact that the natural environment itself here is almost desert like. There is sand everywhere. Where I walk, the only colour actually comes from people’s clothing and the way the cars, houses and shops are decorated. It makes it much easier to live somewhere so desert like, with all this colour to make up for the lack of it naturally. 
Going outside the house is a big, big deal. The level of dressed up my beautiful host sister gets when going to the market to buy groceries is similar to what I think I might wear on my wedding day. No lie, it is pretty amazing to see. 
The fact that there is zero shame involved too is also so wonderful to see. Women don’t shame other women for putting effort into their appearance. And men definitely don’t do it to the same degree that I have seen in other places. It is a relatively shame free zone. It is just so relieving. Seeing women not forced by societal pressures to tear other women apart is a cool thing to see for sure. 
I have also noticed that a clear demonstration of toxic masculinity that has not quite reached Senegal. The male population here is just as involved in fashion as women. In other places I’ve lived, men generally would be seen to be acting ‘gay’ or ‘feminine’ for putting effort and thought into their outfits, the men here just do as they please; and suffer no judgement from other men or women around them for it. 
Though it seems stuff like makeup, high heels and such is not okay here for men to use (which is another hurdle that will hopefully be overcome), other things are accepted. Men putting effort into their outfit, wearing a coordinated outfit, dressing fancy, wearing jewelry like rings and necklaces: it’s all normal and good. The men here even dye their fingernails with plant based dye and that’s normal, and not ‘too girly’ at all. The traditional dress here for men is a long shirt… kind of like a dress (I am simplifying it), which is also totally cool to see. It is genuinely really refreshing to see men be free in expressing themselves as they please fashion wise. And while there are still barriers and issues, of course, I personally really admire it. 
The clothing industry itself here also gives fast fashion of the north America’s a clear run for its money. Most people, at least where I live here in Thies, get their clothes made by a tailor. That is an extremely normal thing, and not excessive at all. The tailor works for a very reasonable price, works extremely quickly (clothes ready within a couple days) and makes your clothes fit exactly right. The fabric you buy is sold by women or men in the market and the tailor is also right around the corner. It is cool to know exactly how your clothes are being made, and who is making them. I can’t say the same about my clothes that I have purchased through chain stores in Canada. It sits a lot better with me to know where the clothes have been before you wear them, and to know what kind of system you are perpetuating and supporting. 
Another interesting thing is that a lot of the tailors and the ones selling the fabric in the market are men. There is also no stigma about them being in these positions. 
It is so wonderful that the most affordable, most ingrained and most morally correct system is the one that is used regularly here, and a system that I have been able to contribute to. Woohoo! 
Fast fashion is tearing the world apart: I recently read that the fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the world. The only thing that goes beyond it in pollution is the oil industry. The fashion industry contributes to a whole 5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Tons and tons of clothes end up in landfills. They also release micro plastics into the soil. 
I think the fast fashion industry could learn a thing or two from Senegal!
Thanks again for reading:)
And here’s me in Senegalese clothing made of wax for reference! 
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Kali Regenvanu