Congo's Liputa Fashion : Fashion in Brazzaville

By Usifo Mike-Alvin

The mix of bold, bright, brilliant and elegant colours that define the stunning prints and fabrics used in creating Congolese fashion are as surreal as a dream. They caught the Western tune, but with their vibrant hues and striking prints—characteristic of African culture, they simply stand out! I am not hawking fabric for Brazzaville, but rather raving about the fashion and colours of Brazzaville! I bet you’d do best and have your money’s worth if you consider these stuffs as souvenirs on your next trip.

In Brazzaville, fashion and colours are everything… I mean almost everything. Hit the street and you’ll be greeted with nice, green and white coloured taxis, the city’s monuments are in glistering colours and you’ll hardly walk two streets without seeing folks nicely dressed in colourful fabrics. Indeed, fashion is still one of the main things in this city, and its residents are blazing the trail in rainbow-like colours!

If you want a jab of an old fashion vibe, then ask any fashionista in Brazzaville what ‘Liputa’ means. Anyway, it is the traditional Congolese clothing centred on the wearing of colourful materials referred to as ‘Liputa’.These fabrics are worn by everyone; typically, ladies  cut it into strips from two to six yards in length, and complete the look with a complementing headscarf.

The fabrics are more often than not found at the local market. People also often design ‘Liputa’ for different purposes, tailored sometimes for certain audiences, for example paying tribute to a leader, marking a special occasion or at a sporting event.

Speed up the time to sometimes around the 1970s forwards and you’d meet the Sapeur.  They say this is not about dressing but rather a way of life. ‘Les Sapeurs’ or ‘Sapologists’ know best. There is no doubt that members of the Sapeur community, which emerged across the Congo River on the streets of Kinshasa before migrating to Brazzaville, form a new sub-culture which takes colourful dressing to new levels. The group comprised dapper looking Congolese gentlemen who dedicate their time and money to dressing strikingly, yet elegantly well, as Papa Wemba, one of Kinshasa’s (Brazzaville’s neighbour across the Congo River) top singers and a founding member of the group once crooned: ”Don’t give up the clothes. It’s our religion.”

I am fascinated by the way the people of Brazzaville make beauty out of seemingly noisy colours. It’s a lesson on how to make sense of seeming nonsense! That’s why I’d recommend you visit this serene central African city.


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