Fashion’s World Cities Cover Image

Fashion’s World Cities


Christopher Breward and David Gilbert (eds)

Berg Fashion Library

Table of contents

La Mode Dakaroise

Elegance, Transnationalism and an African Fashion Capital

Hudita Nura Mustafa

Book chapter

DOI: 10.2752/9780857854117/FASHWRLDCIT0020
Pages: 177–200

Prologue: From Colonial to Global

The first scenes of Ousmane Sembene’s filmic satire of neocolonial elites, Xala (1974), present the transfer of power from French officials to the male elite of newly independent Senegal in 1960. Dressed in petits boubous, a short version of the ‘mbuub’ (Wolof), ‘traditional’ African robes, a group of politicians defiantly expels French advisors along with their busts of French queens and kings from the presidential palace onto the monumental steps and boulevards of Dakar’s Plateau district. The fallacy of this defiance is exposed as we see that these same men have exchanged their African boubous for exaggeratedly starched costumes (French: suits) and even tuxedos. Now acting as the economic elite of the chamber of commerce they eagerly crack open briefcases of money, bribes brought by the same French advisors. Still, they walk through Dakar’s elegant, breezy Plateau district, the national administrative centre, with the arrogance of leaders of a newly independent country and men of distinction. These are the descendants of the evolués, (F: evolved) civilized assimilated Black Frenchmen of the Four Communes, the urban centres of colonial French West Africa. This political-economic crippling, indeed betrayal, of the new nation is metaphorically explored in the story when the protagonist is cursed with sexual impotence when he refuses to perform a traditional ritual as he arrogantly seeks a third wife. In the final scene, El Hajj, the protagonist is stripped to bareback and spat upon by a street crowd thus facing the worst indignity in Senegal, where nakedness signifies insanity.

Nearly thirty years later, the everyday heroine of Sembene’s Faat Kine (2001) is a businesswoman always dressed fashionably in the n’dockette, a full, flouncy decorative dress, a Eurafrican hybrid dress form of the colonial encounter on the Senegambian coast. Kine’s mother’s back, scarred by hot water thrown by her father in rage, bears witness to social denunciation at her fateful pregnancy as a young woman. Outcast, a single mother with her hopes for a legal career dashed, she forges a bold path as a gas station owner among the new cohort of women entrepreneurs in 1980s’ Dakar. Kine’s Dakar, as she drives from upscale residential Point E to downtown Plateau, is laden with memories of both struggle and success. Encounters with betraying men from her past who now come to her in tattered robes, pathetic and financially desperate, depict the reversal of gender positions in the urban middle class as women have replaced unemployed men as income earners. Kine’s sañse (Wolof: fancy dress, from F: changer, transform) represents not just the urban modernity of individual mastery but also a negotiation of contested terrains of wealth, work and beauty. Sembene’s representation of the semiotics of dress shows that sañse is not a narcissistic changing of one’s ‘look’ as asserted by popular critiques of women entrepreneurs. Set in contrast with the scorched back of the mother under relatively stable patriarchal power relations, Kine’s embodied dress practice is the sign of her independent wealth rather than, as has been the case with women’s beauty, the dignity of the patriarchal family. Sañse here signifies the instability and ambiguity of gendered relations of power under post-colonial conditions of socio-economic and cultural crises and reconfigurations.

Following the course of post-colonial Senegal, Sembene’s trajectory of filmic images – the dress, gestures, family forms, work life and urban routes of the two protagonists – portray a political economy and cultural politics of modernity in which the conditions, meanings and institutions of becoming civilisé (F: civilized) have changed. These scenarios from one of Senegal and Africa’s keenest cultural critics alert us to the complex status of Dakar as an African cultural capital, once the ‘Paris of Africa’ as Dakarois artists and cultural elites like to say. The personal elegance of the Dakarois and the cultural sophistication of its urban life undergird Dakar’s status as a paragon of civilized modernity in Africa. Sembene’s two films expose the actuality and contradictions of Senegal’s modernity. In Xala, official and elite Dakar are a perverse combination of neocolonialism and independence, modernity and tradition, arrogant and impotent colonized masculinity. In Faat Kine, the cityscape of crisis and gendered struggle, forty years after independence, is part of a late modern polycentric world, which provides opportunities for middle-class women like Kine. While the tailored suit was the symbol of male power in colonial and early nationalist epochs, as in Xala, in the current neo-liberal era the dismantling of elite patriarchy and the ascendance of a religious, commercial elite requires another, indeed multiple, image(s) of wealth, power and modernity. Cutur (Wolof from the F: couture) emerged from and objectifies this context of change and crisis.

In this chapter, I engage with the aphorism that Dakar is the Paris of Africa by exploring the transformation of couture, the French craft of tailoring, into cutur, an interconnected field of garment production, consumption and display.[1] Cutur is the social, economic and institutional base for contemporary forms of la mode Dakaroise, a constellation of stylish dress objects, images, practices and discourses. Cutur, I suggest, makes Dakar both like and unlike ‘Paris’ and ‘Africa’, themselves iconic, charged categories. The meanings, agendas and potency of such a characterization situate Dakar variously in a colonial dialectic, in a global hierarchy of cities, as a unique cultural generator and centre of African worlds. Importantly, La Mode Dakaroise • the economic and cultural conditions of la mode Dakaroise both precede and exceed colonial civilizing projects and post-colonial mimicry. There is no question that in both Paris and Dakar, distinction in dress has long been a key form of elite symbolic power and modern fashion processes invigorate contestations thereof. In both cases a feminine beauty culture has long thrived across class and status, indeed, tasteful production and sartorial elegance inspire national pride. Beyond this generality the processes and effects of fashion differ significantly. By examining the gendered transformations and interrelations of production, consumption and display, we can discern the nature of crisis, creativity and flexibility in a post-colonial fashion context.

If in certain ‘regards’ (F: looks) colonial and newly independent Dakar was a mirror city to Paris, both reflecting and distorting Parisian civilization, cutur invites another look.[2] For Kine’s crisis-ridden Dakar is not merely a broken mirror. The conceit of the mirror enables us to think about the colonial dialectic, its legacies and the transformation of colonial into global cities. Artists, intellectuals and ordinary persons from Tokyo to New York and Dakar have looked to Paris, long-time capital of the modern Western cultural world, for the ‘best’ and ‘newest’ of cosmopolitan urban modernity. Parisian politics, ideas, lifestyle and art are the epitome of sophisticated cultural life. Indeed, Paris as French imperial capital was a model for the rule, planning and image of Dakar, capital of French West Africa. In the mirror cities of Paris/Dakar we may perceive Parisian mappings, technologies, public spaces, images, styles, gestures, scents and words in Dakarois cutur. We also see traces of Dakar in the markets, shoppers, greetings and mosques of Paris. But the frames and looks of such a colonial mirror do not contain the actuality of the many streams of culture that compose cutur.

Fashion and Gendered Transformations

In the last twenty-five years, processes of decolonization, neo-liberal reform, globalization and French disengagement dismantled the tightly controlled French colonial sphere. Paris ‘burned’ for two weeks in November 2005, a concrete expression of the post-colonial alienation of French youth of Arab and African origin and the demise of Paris as an imperial centre and ideal. At the same time, New York and other global cities have been revived by the entrepreneurial activity of Senegalese and Malian traders, hair-braiders, tailors, taxi drivers, restaurateurs and students. As a fashion capital, Dakar was forged as a nexus of cross-cultural encounter and conquest. This status precedes and survives its status as a satellite of Paris. To reflect upon these complexities we will ask: Is la mode Dakaroise a voracious, even desperately competitive, creativity in a disarticulated market in which nothing is too sacred to be consumed and female beauty is glorified, strategically used and condemned as narcissistic? What has been and is the place of French colonial civilizing urbanism in cultivating a civilized self? What are the global influences on Dakar creativity?

In this changing context sartorial elegance bears heavy burdens, for the gendered body remains a pre-eminent site of civilizing projects. In order to understand how the meanings of civilisé and sañse have changed we must recall broader historical processes. Under current adverse conditions, Senegambia, always a land of metissage, has re-emerged as a zone of encounter among Africa, Islam, the West and now East Asia. In West Africa, neo-liberal economic reform led to austerity and poverty but also forced local agents to expand transnational connections in a more open, if unequal, global trade arena. The displacement of French by American imperial hegemony is evidenced in economic development infrastructure, popular culture and migration patterns. Ascendant Middle Eastern and East Asian economic spheres supply new transnational commercial networks. As French imperial civilizing cultural projects have been largely abandoned, it is these broader influences of the longue durée and new global orders that now generate la mode Dakaroise. In turn, la mode, reborn of cosmopolitanism and crisis, transforms Dakar from a colonial into a global city.

On the local level, gendered transformations in cutur have made fashion an even more crucial arbiter of Senegalese transnationalism, social distinction and female elegance. I have suggested that ‘ordinary cosmopolitans’ craft not just fashion but Dakarois cosmopolitanism through garments, selves and discourse (Mustafa 1998; Diouf 2000). The new commercial elite is of provincial origin, educated in Koranic schools and based in Islamic brotherhoods. Their success in Dakar, European cities and especially New York finances their investments, marriages and status in Dakar. They challenge the social power of now pauperized long-standing coastal, Francophile, educated middle and elite classes. These various middle and elite classes fragment and reconstitute through entrepreneurship and cloth and tailoring, which were their primary strategic terrains. Their fashion and ceremonial display symbolically expresses new civilities, status and wealth. In the 1980s diversified global networks diversified the prices and qualities of fashion goods and enabled broader sectors of producers and consumers to engage in fashion’s pace. Youth fashion expanded with North American trade circuits and influence. Fuug jaay (Wolof: dust off and sell), second-hand Western clothes imported from the USA and Europe, are disdained but meet basic clothing needs of youth and children of an increasingly impoverished society. Still, within age/gender patriarchal hierarchies, women’s elegance, being jekk (Wolof: elegant) symbolizes family dignity, the core of Senegambian values (Diop 1981). Families sacrifice to finance women’s dress. Since the 1980s women made production, consumption and display more interdependent by combining work in ateliers, design and trade with sociality and ceremonial life. They created space for themselves in male fields and reinvented femininity as practical elegance. In sum, structural crises, new transnational connections and gendered strategies shape Dakar’s fashion processes.

We can specify Dakarois fashion by comparing it to the prominent example of Western fashion processes, Parisian fashion, in four ways. Briefly, we should recall that Parisian fashion, once thriving with a range of artisanal and industrial producers, polarized in the post-Second World War era into very exclusive haute couture houses and mass production, with couture-inspired prêt-à-porter as a small middle level. By contrast, artisanship and small-scale entrepreneurship proliferated in Senegal’s economic austerity especially after independence. Among the differences, first, la mode and cutur are part of a broader discourse and historical consciousness of long-standing Senegambian excellence and exceptionalism in matters of personal conduct and beauty. This could be said of Parisian self-images as well, but the importance here is that such reflection contests colonial constructions of Africa as a culturally regressive space that was awakened by colonial modernity. Second, la mode Dakaroise is part of an uneven commodification of urban economy and culture in which the moral economy of cloth, dress and display has in fact intensified rather than subsided. Third, unlike Western fashion’s continual negotiation of art and industry, standardization and flexibility, cutur is a hybrid, artisanal field, which combines an indigenized Western craft, deeply rooted artistic sensibilities and dependence upon global industries.

Fourth, in contrast to North Atlantic fashion capitals such as London, Paris, Milan and New York, contemporary Dakar fashion is shaped by economic decline rather than growth. Its flexibility is shaped by economic volatility and marginalization to global processes rather than industrial growth strategies in competitive markets. Cutur may actually be much more important to the urban economy and middle-class survival than couture has been in Paris. Yet its flexibility allows expansion but little hope for accumulation, equity or sustained economic development. In this crisis context, elegance, the pride of Dakarois who have felt themselves in a respectful dialogue with Parisian distinction, is an even more critical terrain of material and symbolic power in periods of social contestation and change. Dress has a long history as symbol of power and self-reflexive discourse on modernity. The mimicry or similitude implied by comparing Dakar to Paris legitimizes Dakar as a modern cultural centre but obscures the multiple processes that shape la mode Dakaroise independently of Paris.

Like many globally oriented urban cultural centres, Dakar fashion is shaped by dense networks of skilled producers, effective distribution circuits, proclivity towards learning and experimentation, and vertical disintegration in cultural products sectors (Scott 2000a). Like Paris, Dakar fashion is imprinted with a unique ‘feel’ which imbues world cities with charisma as if they were a person. Importantly for the embodied practices of fashion, a loyal, discerning home market advertises, monitors and creates fashion. Hollywood film can only be made in Hollywood, a French film in France. Blue jeans would not be the global icon of American masculinity they are without Hollywood Westerns and Parisiennes would not be known globally without Catherine Deneuve’s seductive allure in French films. Similarly, a Dakar-made taille bas (F: ‘stocking’ waist) skirt suit or embroidered boubou is marked by the detailed skill and taste of even market tailors.

As it would be impossible to think about Paris without imagining the Parisienne, her easy elegance gracing charming shops and magnificent avenues, it is impossible to think of Dakar without its dirriankhes. Corpulent, wrapped in metres of cloth falling underfoot, they saunter in high heels in the wind-blown, sandy alleys leaving behind the sound of waist-beads and scent of incense. This ambiguous yet ubiquitous figure of feminine elegance animates and eroticizes commercialized public spaces of modernity. Once linked to coastal trade and leisured elites, today’s dirriankhes are middle-class women who aggressively confront crisis to innovate institutions from tailoring to the family in order to manage familial needs and financial instability. Since the 1980s their entrepreneurship in cloth trade and tailoring ateliers has been the core of many families’ survival. The most successful travel to buy fashion goods or sell clothing in Europe, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Las Palmas, Jeddah and New York. For these women elegance expresses status and dignity but also asserts a work identity as tastemakers. Amidst Dakar’s polarities, the dirriankhe condenses the social processes of cosmopolitanism and crisis that beget cultural creativity. We will return to this figure after tracing the processes resituating Dakar from a French colonial to a global city.

A remapping of the terrains and hierarchies of global cities to include not just command networks of contemporary global capitalism but those of colonialism would better enable us to attend to the interdigitation of global hegemonies, creativity and power (King 1990 supplements the paradigm of Sassen 1991). Since the 1980s there has been a new strategic role for global cities as command centres of late capitalism and a new convergence of culture and economy evident in the growth and agglomerations within the cultural products sector. In this process the symbolic value of individual city cultures is a significant part of urban renewal planning and even a brand linking place, heritage and quality (Scott 2000a). However, the programmatic, normative ambition of this facet of the global cities paradigm deemphasizes polarities, inequalities and disarticulations both within global cities and between cities of the North and South (Massey 1994; Soja 2000).

By contrast, from the critical perspectives of labour, post-colonialism or neo-liberalism, modern fashion processes appear of the same cloth, so to speak, with imperial domination (Mustafa 2002a, b). Global cities then are not only the Northern command centres (i.e. London, New York, and the exceptional Tokyo) but shaped through webs of unequal exchange, dependence and shared imperial history with cities of the South (i.e. Mumbai, Dakar, Lagos, Mexico City) in a polycentric world. Despite its violent processes such as expansion of mass cultural products, undermining of local artisanal production and extreme exploitation of female producers and consumers, fashion provides a global traffic in culture which enables the colonized to negotiate the dialectic of tradition and modernity with skill, pleasure and pride. Such contradictory economic and cultural processes are intrinsic to post-colonial urban conditions of creativity amidst crisis (Appadurai 1996; Hannerz 1996; Hansen 2000).

Before examining the history of cutur a reflection upon what I call the ‘words of cutur’ – the vocabulary of tools, skills, positions, identities and styles – broaches critical issues in the cultural politics of urbanism and fashion. The creole words of Dakar Wolof, cutur, créateur (from F: creator, artist) and sañse (from F changer; to transform) highlight the hybridity of French and African practices that produce and are produced by the field of fashion. Créateur and sañse highlight the agency and self-cultivation required for production and consumption. Cutur, which refers to production, consumption and the object itself, captures the sense of a semi-autonomous world, a social field. Civilisé, with its direct reference to colonialism, no longer refers to Francophile language, manners or even hygiene as taught in schools but retains its reference to a propriety of bodily cleanliness, elegance and fashionability, that is to social knowledge and know-how. Fashion categories such as tubaab (Wolof: foreign, white), modern (F: modern) and Africain, traditionel (F: African, traditional) are organized around the polarity of European/African. Yet instead of representing static tradition, as fashion studies would have it, African style is valued for an authenticity that absorbs new, cosmopolitan Islamic, African and European influences (Mustafa 1998; Rabine 1998, 2002). Notwithstanding the hegemony of coastal Wolof culture, the fluidity of Senegambian ethnicities is fertile terrain for innovation (Diouf 1998; Fall 1989; Mclaughlin 2001; Swigart 1992).[3] Fashion, language and music are part of the making of an urban identity, which is increasingly detached from broader national identification and expressed through creolized cultural forms. Even though New Yorkers, Londoners or Parisians would see Dakar as an outpost, Dakarois feel themselves to be a distinct part of global cosmopolitan society.

‘The Paris of Africa’: Civility and Colonial Urbanism

As capital of French West Africa (1890–1960), Dakar was made and known as the ‘Paris of Africa’. The Plateau district contains within a two-mile radius both the official city of boulevards, grand buildings, roundabouts and monuments as well as the downtown of boutiques, cinema, museums, theatres, cafes and hotels. The coastal road bordering this area leads out to more leisure sites, the airport and French military bases. These spaces of political power and order, leisure, sociality, culture and display are familiar to French expatriates, enjoyed by the Senegalese elite and dreamt of by aspirants. The university, newspapers, theatre and intellectual life have attracted bright minds from across the francophone and African diasporic world. The first world festival of Negro Arts was held here in 1965 and the Dakar visual arts biennial is the most enduring one in Africa. Blaise Diagne was the first to articulate African anti-colonialism here in the 1920s. Leopold Senghor, Negritude philosopher, poet and first President developed a national culture promoting arts and Africanity. Colonial civility became part of Dakar’s historical role as a site of metissage and then of global African culture.

A capital in all ways – administrative, diplomatic, commercial, cultural, military – Dakar is centre of not just a nation but of African worlds. This centrality harbours a violent birth as a segregated colonial city, for Plateau was created for French officials through the forced removal of Lebou villages from seaside cliffs to create an African district, the Medina. The harmonizing of colonial modernist norms and forms was always disrupted by African social life and needs. Streets made for rational circulation of goods and persons were always used for ceremonies and trading. Concrete box houses built for nuclear families house extended families, tailoring shops and suitcase trade (Seck 1970; Rabinow 1989; King 1990; Wright 1991; Mustafa 2002b). Through practices such as cutur the colonial city has now been fully recuperated by popular needs and desires.

Before examining cutur we must recall that the history of sartorial elegance in Senegal reflects and shapes larger processes of colonization, decolonization and modernity. Modern fashion is part of a long regional history of cloth as currency, gift, weaving traditions of hereditary castes, symbol of political and social status and aesthetic object. In the terrain of distinction, the body is a key site for producing ideologies and practices of propriety, civility and elegance. Women’s beauty always registered metissage and Western dress was never imposed upon them. ‘We learned it from our grandmothers … have you heard about the St Louisiennes … they were beautiful, always well-dressed and elegant’ I was told. St Louis was a seventeenth-century trading enclave and became the first colonial capital in the nineteenth century. Icons of female beauty and cultivated elegance, St Louisiennes’ art of living guarded tradition but absorbed cosmopolitan European and Arab influences (Niang 1990). In my interviews older women St Louisiennes recall memories of post-harvest shopping at French trading houses, ceremonial gift exchanges of heavy woven cloth, thrilling studio portraits and intricate hairstyles with wool wigs and gold decorations. Theirs is the exemplar instance of Senegambian negotiations of colonial influence, imposition and metissage. In their sañse the distinct restraint and bodily adornment valued by regional societies, norms of modesty considered to be Islamic, and French elegant fashionability together compose a sartorial performance that weds elegance with foundational values of dignity (Sylla 1978).

As a project of colonial modernity, Dakar evolved through economic and cultural projects, which relied upon the bifurcation of the colonial population into urban citizens and rural subjects and the uneven development of the urban coast and rural interior (Seck 1970; Cruise O’Brien 1975; Conklin 1997).[4] After the Second World War, the ‘pacte colonial’ closely knit metropolitan and colonial economies favouring French merchant capital. Local handicraft cloth production was undermined by multiple European trading interests in the nineteenth century, then by French control of the colonial market (Pitts 1978; Barry 1992, 1998). African markets provided outlets for declining French industry, including textiles, after the World Wars and the depression, at times providing the only growth market (Boone 1992). By the late 1970s, rural droughts, the global energy crisis and national debt led the country into World Bank structural adjustment reforms. These 1980s reforms undermined education, state services, bureaucratic employment and hence the institutional bases of the middle classes and their patriarchal relations.

The dominating force of colonial urbanism and civilizing projects has to be placed in the longer history of metissage in the trading enclaves of Gorée, St Louis, Rufisque and Dakar, all at or near the Petit Cote of Atlantic Africa. Designated as the Four Communes in the early colonial period they were centres of modernization projects (Biondi 1987; Diouf 1998). For five centuries they were part of coastal Eurafrican societies of Portuguese, French, Wolof and Arab influence, and then sites of European competition for markets, goods and territories. Trans-Saharan trade has been traced back to the tenth century and the scholarly cliché that this coast is a gateway between Islam, Africa and the West holds some truth. In the early 1900s, Dakar became a focal point of modernization with a solid infrastructure of schools, clinics, commerce and military bases to ensure the ‘assimilation’ of Africans to civilized modernity as Black Frenchmen, evolués and citizens (Crowder 1967; Gellar 1982).

The Senegalese incorporated colonial technologies from photography to the sewing machine into their sartorial ecumenes of objects, images, events and meanings. In studio portraits from the height of colonial rule in the 1940s and 1950s we see the hybrid elegance of the women of St Louis and Dakar with heavy gold jewellery, braided hair, woollen wigs, elaborate headscarves and henna-ed hands emphasizing the beauty of head, neck and corpulence. They wear hybrid dress styles such as the Robe bloc, perhaps a version of Dior’s New Look (Rabine 1998) in European cloth, but these colonized bodies assert the long metissage of the coast. As pioneer Malian studio photographer, Seydou Keita said, ‘Above all the attire had to come out in the photo. Hands, long slender fingers, jewels … were very important. It was a sign of wealth, elegance, beauty.’ In today’s world, such performances of dignity, which may not be grounded in reliable income or social status, become more important to the negotiation of social power.

Men were more engaged with colonial institutions and the costume expressed an ambiguous colonized masculinity. On one hand, punitive civilizing strategies included suspending schoolboys for not wearing suits in public in order to ‘faire la rupture’ (F: create a rupture) between the male evolué and his community (Rabine 1998: 99). Stifled in the heat, boys rushed home to change. For popular sectors, however, as it continues to be, the suit was the sign of leisured urban modernity. In the 1990s, on otherwise bare shop walls, Keba Fall, tailor to Dakar’s elite since the 1940s, displayed photos of youthful memories of Sunday suits and promenades in 1950s’ Plateau. In the 1960s while artists held pan-African festivals, youth across the continent adopted flashy Western styles in a rebellious leisure culture allied with African-American rhythm and blues, dances, cinema and new, unsupervised courtship. People threw stones and called the police on girls who wore pants or miniskirts but youth ‘ont tenu la coup’, persisted, to impose the European style explains tailor Abdou Niang (Rabine 1998: 99). In the 1960s Senghor prescribed the suit for and banned the boubou for official contexts. The boubou was reinstated in the 1980s by Abdou Diouf as official dress and is now accepted as dress for every Friday, the holy day. As colonial institutions collapse so do their prescriptions for male dress and the boubou is legitimate throughout social contexts.[5] Jewels of the cosmopolitan coast, St Louis and Dakar, never quite conceded to mirror Paris. In becoming civilisé their inhabitants used multiple, sometime hybrid, forms of dress, language and conduct as they negotiated colonial institutions and new urban spaces.

Couture to Cutur

Dakar’s real and imagined city of cutur was produced by popular economic strategies and culture in the 1980s. This city of spectacles of both lavish display and inequality reconfigured socio-spatial boundaries, social hierarchies and identities. Local strategies and then neo-liberal reform expanded the informal economy and liberalized trade, which reopened the restricted neocolonial trade regime, though on unfavourable terms of global engagements (Mustafa 1998; Dieng 2000; M. Diop 2002; Simone 2004). Dakar’s artisanship in clothing, hair and style relies on rapid, diverse global circulations of industrial productions in technology, cloth, fashion accessories and visual images (see Figure 11.1). Dakar’s marketplaces register a new commercial terrain in an urban economy of expanded global trade networks organized through Islamic brotherhoods, unprecedented female entrepreneurship and drastic periodic ebbs and flows of cash flows and consumption. With the demise of the educational system, commerce and small business have become the ground of the reshaped middle classes. The crisis strategies of the 1980s led to gendered transformations in tailoring, as in other domains, as women and youth faced more vulnerability but also opportunity.

While post-Fordist flexibility advances standardization and massification of fashion through highly mobile capital and labour, cutur’s flexibility of artisanal production enables individual producers and consumers to realize their dreams and participate in fashion’s paces. Despite a volatile, seasonal consumer market with unstable cash flows, several factors intensified and expanded competition, creativity, tailoring skills and social knowledge of fashion. These were expanded trade regimes and diversity of raw materials, extreme (self-) exploitation of labour, price cutting, social pressures to reduce prices and expansion of apprenticeship to include middle-class youth who faced collapsed schools, especially girls. It is precisely this volatility throughout production and consumption, which makes fashion important for securing multiple forms of wealth such as income, reputation and social networks. After the 50 per cent devaluation of 1994 the local market polarized even further. Many turned to ever-cheaper materials and revived local techniques such as dyeing, while relatives of Senegalese migrant traders express and claim new status through ostentatious consumption in fashion and ceremonies.

Figure 11.1

Cyberfemme (Cyberwoman). Costume by Senegalese costume designer, Oumou Sy. Sy often parades and photographs her costumes in the urban decay of Dakar’s streets. Credit: Metissacana 1997.

Tailoring entered Senegalese society as a French colonial technology and knowledge in Catholic schools and colonial institutions. During the 1930s male tailors were trained and employed in the French artisanal tradition in urban colonial institutions. In hospitals and military camps they produced confection, uniforms. In trading firms they sewed for clients who bought cloth at the shops. By the late 1940s, these tailleurs militaires were training their own apprentices and had shops in city avenues catering to Senegalese clients.[6] In the 1970s rural droughts led to the migration of young men to Dakar and into the artisanal trades (see Figure 11.2). In the early 1980s middle-class women entered the field as entrepreneurs and then as apprentices. They have relied upon the reserve male labour in tailoring and built their clientele base from social networks. In this last phase, overlapping categories of cutur femme and cutur africaine, have been the principal focus of expansion, consumption and creativity. Cuture africaine includes embroidered boubous for both genders and the hybrid n’dockettes and taille bas for women. The n’dockette, ‘mbuub a la francaise’, French robe, resembles the dress of coastal metisse women in St Louis (Biondi 1987: 52). The taille bas is a skirt suit with tight bodice and decorative neckline, sleeves and hip areas. Cutur femme includes both Western and Eurafrican hybrids for women – taille bas, n’dockettes and dresses, skirts, jackets and trousers for young, usually unmarried, women.

The expansion of cutur femme exemplifies the way networks at multiple levels and scales enable local agents to negotiate instability in this post-colonial, globalized context. As structural adjustment programmes designed by the IMF led to austerity, the state disengaged from services, parastatals and employment. Male unemployment skyrocketed through white-collar sectors and small business. By the early 1990s, middle-class women in Dakar had intervened decisively to transform a male, artisanal craft of tailoring into an occupation based upon wage labour, female social networks, competitive design and marketing.[7] Given the low status of tailoring for urban, middle-class women, they reinvented themselves as couturieres, women of taste with natural gifts for design. Not just in ceremonies but in everyday life they are tastemakers, as one told me sarcastically, ‘when I wear something to take out the garbage my neighbours think it is a new style and order it.’ In particular, women reinvigorated ceremonial life and its social and financial networks, which served to generate capital and clientele hence intensifying both rivalry and solidarity among women. Families and women strategize to dress by borrowing clothes, gift-giving and organizing savings groups. In weddings and naming ceremonies, individual dress display and gift-giving of cloth are equally important.

Figure 11.2

A tailor in the HLM5 market, the major cloth market of Dakar. Small, artisanal workshops with simple machines predominate in Dakar’s garment production sector. Credit: Hudita Nura Mustafa, 1993.

Cutur, perhaps more than Western fashion processes, is a field in which production, consumption, exchange and display are deeply interdependent. In the 1980s, by opening shops in markets and at home and ‘walking around the city’ to ‘look for money’, women occupied public space and challenged norms of modesty and propriety. As they began in the 1990s to travel to Jeddah, Las Palmas, Gambia and Nigeria to buy cloth, gold, cosmetics or shoes they further destabilized such norms (Grandmaison 1972; Kane 1977; Sarr 1998 on this trajectory). While all ateliers are new public spaces of conviviality, women’s ateliers become salons of friends in the afternoons, supporting social networks in times of crisis. Transnational religious diasporas and women’s social networks have knitted together a citywide network, linked to other commercial urban centres, which circulates labour, style, materials, cash and connections. Women strategically linked entrepreneurial, ceremonial and personal agendas and in so doing rearticulated institutions, practices, discourses and hence, social domains and the city space.

Several master tailors trained as tailleurs militaries adapted to the new terrain of competition by changing their focus in the 1980s to the niche market of cutur femme. For instance, Babacar N’diaye was trained as a tailleur militaire but strategically turned his eye and hand to this market. By the late 1980s his prize-winning designs, Eurafrican hybrids in evening dresses, taille bas (Wolof/F: skirt suits) in cotton prints, were shown on televised fashion shows. His signature is recognized, his clients say, by an elegantly sharp silhouette, itself derivative of his cut, which is based upon his training in men’s blazers. In a tragic case, one of the most senior tailors in Dakar closed his shop to work for a businesswoman. When her shop closed he was forced to sit on a bench in a road waiting for his old clients in the same Plateau district where he had been a master artisan for the previous forty years.

The rapid expansion of cutur was enabled by multiple forms of global and local flexibility with diverse but mutually reinforcing dynamics. The flexibility and range of new transnational connections are managed by wholesalers connected to a pyramid of smaller traders. For example, Senegalese traders design and order motifs at factories of Dutch ‘wax’ prints and German damask.[8] Wholesalers then order cheaper copies from Hong Kong and Chinese factories, or purchase the cheapest from Nigeria, which has one of the few viable textile industries on the African continent. Basin bu riche, high quality, German damask is CFA (Communauté Financiere Africaine) Fr. 6,000 (US$10) per metre in contrast to the Hong Kong cheaper quality of CFA Fr. 3,000. The major markets in Dakar are situated in the middle-class districts of Sandaga and Habitations Loyers Modérés section 5 (HLM5). These markets are regional centres of trade and contain shops of all these levels of traders. The accessibility of cloth is crucial to the democratizing, if emulative, dynamic of fashion.[9] Flexible forms of artisanal production respond to the short cash flow periods at the beginnings of months and at the peak seasons of the two Muslim Eid holidays.[10] Despite the high rates of consumption at peak season and in ceremonial life, Sotiba, the national textile company has captured neither the luxury nor the low-end local market. Its factories are plagued by mismanagement and are often closed. This exemplifies the disarticulated nature of the fashion process, which serves to support foreign over national industry.

Création and Global Culture

While ‘before it [the boubou] was for princes and marabouts, now it is for everyone’ old hand-embroiders say. Indeed, the embroidered boubou is now the main canvas for création and its gravitas is disregarded in a wild play with cloth, colour and decoration.[11] The transformation of the boubou shows that despite an oppositional semantics of European/modern versus African/traditional, in Dakar’s fashion schema new and traditional are not opposed. Notwithstanding an invocation of a colonial dialectic, African style is more valued than European style. Its valorization is based upon an authenticity created from the hybridity of forms and a complex assembly of values rather than the pursuit, always illusory, of fixity or purity (see Figure 11.3). More than nationalism or a revival of tradition, African styles produce an African modernity developed through cosmopolitanism and crisis.

The innovative assembly of forms and values occurs in ateliers through création, the collaborative design process between tailor and client, which – at once intimate and public – combines personal fantasy, artisanal skill and social knowledge of fashion. In contrast to the sober artisan–client relations of the past, focused on reproducing styles, in this active consumption clients work with producers to valorize cloth, garments and their bodies through cut and decoration. A valuable garment produces a person of maana (Wolof: value, presence). A central practice of cutur, création is embedded in multiple scales from the local scale of the atelier with its convivial joking, confidences and creativity to the regional scale of materials, skill and style distribution, to the global scale of transnational trade. Its interdependent production and consumption produces new social relations and spaces. As such, it is diagnostic for the transformation of the colonial modernity of couture into the globalized modernity of cutur.

Figure 11.3

A ‘couturier’s’ shop window in the Medina district of Dakar, a popular centre for shopping and promenading. Seye’s designs show the recent use of ‘modern’ marketing and publicity techniques. His designs are part of the popularization of the boubou robe and use festive, multicoloured cloth, embroidery and motifs to transform the formerly sober, masculine style. Credit: Hudita Nura Mustafa, 1993.

The versatility of the boubou as a form has led to a popularization that some consider banalization or even degradation. The traditional boubou has always been requisite for ritual contexts and an unquestioned pinnacle of sartorial prestige. A simple form of robe made from a six-metre length of cloth, its neck is cut out at the fold and ends are sewn at the base of the length to create arm openings. It is worn with pants and kaftans by men, and wrappers and headscarves by women. As a regal male dress the boubou was made in white damask, sometimes hand-dyed to the pious sky blue, three pieces being cut from a ten-metre length of cloth to make pants, kaftan and covering robe. Imposing, costly hand-embroidered Islamic motifs in silver or gold thread took months to complete. Second-hand machines, diverse materials from the highest value threads in French silk to Nigerian polyester make embroidery available for increasingly bold, diverse types of garment and clienteles.

While women wore boubous in cotton prints, in the 1960s the embroidered boubou entered women’s fashion. As such it became subject to rapid variations of cloth, materials, colours and motifs and simulations of motifs such as appliqués and hand-painting. Traditional Islamic motifs were replaced by inspirations from the cloth’s motifs or even pop art-like geometrics. Damask cloth is supplemented by luxurious feminine materials such as Swiss voiles, Japanese jacquards or, for a more imposing look, heavy German brocades. While the sober blues and browns of prized tuub hand-dyed boubous are worn by older women or at times by Toucouleur women, most women follow the seasonal fashion in colour, which is determined in large part by what the traders order. Scandalously, boubous and n’dockettes are even made in percale, the cheap white cotton used to wrap the deceased, and decorated with appliqués or even painting that imitate embroidery. Conservative older tailors who refuse fashion insist on the sober colours and Islamic motifs. The banalization they say results from women copying celebrities on television in ‘extravagant and folkloric dress … and they follow not knowing that dress has its proper context.’ For elite embroiderers, like the Guinean couturiere celebrity Douma Diakhate, the boubou has generated great wealth and an international African clientele of elites and even presidents.

Unlike ready-to-wear, which conceals labour processes, création enables both clients and tailors to exercise imagination and choice. Furthermore, evaluation of a garment is based in part upon the skill of sewing and its final value is based upon personal elegance in wearing. As for any migrating friend, at my departure my tailor and key interlocutor, Babacar N’diaye of Weekend Elegance insisted on making a collection for me. We chose models by scouring magazines, a photo album of his designs and my own notebook of fantasy styles. We shopped for cloth in markets, went through my own collection of cloth and, as he cut, he reinvented our designs. At the end, I had several dressy skirt-and-pant suits in black chiffon, white damask, cotton prints and hand-dyed damask. Western cuts were combined with ‘African’ cloth of prints, tuub or damask. Decorative highlights such as the full sleeves like the taille bas, embroidery on necklines, lace cuffs, rows of tiny buttons were based on both Parisian haute couture models and the Senegalese emphases of head and shoulders. Many were variations of the Eurafrican taille bas that modify recent neck or sleeve styles from Paris seen in the prêt-à-porter magazine from Paris, Rendezvous, in Amina, a women’s magazine published in Dakar, on television or film (see Figure 11.4). In the early 1990s Rendezvous’ photographs of Victorian balloon sleeves in Parisian shows inspired virtual flower bouquets of sleeves. Among my skirts were flared models and the popular Alexis long split skirt named after the Dynasty soap opera character. For Babacar, this collection was an opportunity for his designs to be seen in elite, foreign contexts such as hotels, conferences or receptions.

Figure 11.4

A bride from an affluent Dakar family with her entourage of friends. This white Eurafrican taille bas style is one of three outfits for the day and is made in European luxury cloth. Credit: Hudita Nura Mustafa, 1993.

Dakar’s allure for West African consumers rests upon its creative producers, diverse materials and quality. Malian and Guinean women traders purchase stocks of n’dockettes made in the HLM market by women entrepreneurs and their employed tailors. There cheap cloth such as percale, sheer cotton Khartoum or Chinese damask is valorized with ‘eccentric’ trims of eyelet lace, ribbons or embroidery that often cost more than the dress itself. These women claim to be créateurs, but as one told me, ‘we are all cheats [of others’ designs].’ For educated elites, such garments demonstrate poor taste, for the value and quality of cloth is more important than decoration. The trajectory of the most popular n’dockette style in the 1990s, the jaxass style of patchwork, shows how the fashion process circulates and masticates images. Jaxass originated with the founder of the Baye Fall sect of the Mouride brotherhood, Cheikh Ibra Fall, whose tattered clothes signified world renunciation and hard work. Today’s disciples beg but also drink alcohol and perform ecstatic ceremonies of drumming, singing and self-flagellation. They make baggy pants and tunics made of patchwork panels. In the free for all of contemporary fashion this inspired the national textile producer to make a cotton print for cheap pants, tops and bags for tourists and exported it to the United States. By the 1990s, jaxass inspired an enduring style of n’dockettes. The irony was that patchwork was a costly design because it needed multiple symmetric panels in new, even luxury, cloth whose many seams were decorated with costly trimmings. As fashion, patchwork catered to consumer desire in commodified transnational markets for Dakarois authenticity, the opposite of its origin in worldly renunciation in pursuit of a sacred Senegalese community.

Youth style has most leeway to engage directly with images of not only European but with parallel modernities in Asia or the Islamic world. Young women (under the age of thirty-five) enjoy the most diverse array of styles. For example, in the 1990s, a stitched-skirt Indian sari was worn with so-called ‘Naomi Campbell’ wigs of straight hair and bindis on the forehead. Veiling, usually done by women for only a few years in their twenties, is more controversial as it is generally seen as a repressive, ‘un-African’ practice; and, though covered from head to toe, these women are usually colour coordinated in fashionable cloth. As in most major cities, blue jeans are part and symbol of a larger youth culture of associated accessories (T-shirts, baseball caps, sneakers, lycra leggings, miniskirts), music (rap or local mbalaax music) and leisure activities (cinema, dances, hanging out). For everyday wear, male youth, teenage girls and children rely on second-hand clothes. For important dances at Christmas or New Year, youth order tailor-made outfits. In the poorest sectors, tailors creatively use fuug jaay or even curtains to make stylish outfits. Many apprentices use their first salary as a tailor to buy, overnight, an image of urban sharpness in a pair of jeans, a shirt and leather shoes.

So, to return to our basic questions, is la mode Dakaroise voracious creativity a result of colonial legacy or a disarticulated globalized economy? What is the place of colonial civilizing urbanism in the making of Dakarois modernity today? It is telling that unlike East and Southern Africa in which Western style has long replaced local dress, fuug jaay is disdained. This contrasts with other East and Southern African states where Western styles are the standard, and second-hand clothes are central to fashion processes (Hendrickson 1996; Hansen 2000). It is the limit against which we can discern the current meaning of civilisé. While African dress is now acceptable across all social contexts, Western clothes have become limited to offices, youth social contexts and casual everyday dress mostly for male wearers. Since education and bureaucracy have been displaced by commerce as routes to socio-economic position and mobility, the men’s suit has been displaced by the boubou and the n’dockette. Through création, the boubou and n’dockette bear the agendas and burdens of contemporary crisis and cosmopolitanism. For the new class of entrepreneurs these styles create a new image of Dakarois civility and elegance based not on francophone education as it has been for a century, but on successful negotiation of transnational trade, renewed cosmopolitan influences and very specific valorization strategies in cutur. With the decline of French influence and collapse of neocolonial institutions, being civilisé through comportment is rerooted in popular Senegalese practices as part of broader struggles around distinction, class restructurings and global hegemonies.

A Cityscape of Dirriankhes

Fashion needs a stage, we know, and cities need spectacles. The specificity of Dakar’s stage is the heterogeneity of the spaces for fashion competition and recognition.

From ateliers and markets to ceremonies and streets and television and music videos, the dirriankhe is the ideal of feminine elegance. The dirriankhe is above all a corporeal, multi-sensorial and eminently visual spectacle of mature femininity – overflowing robes that fall underfoot, a voluptuous body cared for by lotions and incense, clinking waist-beads, slow, seductive gait – all performed for the audiences of urban streets, ceremonies and markets. This sañse of various sensory effects plays at revealing and concealing the body, and an air of nonchalance belies the great effort that enables such dress. Urban lore contends that this sight was said to ‘drive the Yankees crazy’ in post-Second World War naval postings in Dakar and hence the word, ‘dirriankhe’. An etymology, however, suggests that her name comes from her gait, the Wolof ‘dirri’, to drag. In the heterogeneity and polarization of urban spaces, her presence is pervasive.

Urban legends, visual images and music reiterate the dirriankhe. A drawing by an early documentarian of Senegal, the metisse priest, David Boilat presents historical images of the pre-colonial coastal culture of beauty. In his Esquisses Senegalaises (1984 [1853]) Wolof queens and mixed-race Signares, female traders in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century St Louis, wore multiple layers of woven cloth and towering headscarves. In 1950s studio portraits, St Louisienne women assert hybrid aesthetics amidst the colonial assimilation policy and these portraits grace many domestic interiors. They also serve as models for wall murals in Dakar and for the unique genre of miniature glass paintings. Griot singers or women politicians are celebrated in music videos and television newscasts. Televised fashion shows and beauty contests both promote and satirize this model of corpulence and nonchalance. Gossip about neighbourhood fashion queens or wealthy women traders circulate stories of ceremonies, wealth, marriages and dress. Such enactments reinvent the dirriankhe for the contemporary purposes of celebrity. They also take the dirriankhe from circumscribed contexts of conjugal domesticity, familial ceremony or collective leisure into ambiguous commercialized, mediatized contexts and even to foreign travel.

Like the American New Woman or Parisian grisette, the dirriankhe represents experiments in and cultural anxieties about modernity. In Senegambian traditions of elegance women’s beauty represents familial dignity as well as individual mastery. Any single performance of dress is enabled by a host of collective financial and social investments from advice on fashion, borrowed gold jewellery to gifts of cloth or cash loans. Furthermore, the sites of sartorial display were limited to familial ceremonial life, collective leisure activities or conjugal seduction. As an ideal of masterful elegance, the dirriankhe was linked to leisured elites but today she is linked to mobile, public businesswomen. For these women an elegant dignity secures not only respect and familial reputation but also credit, clients and business connections. Their expenditures on ceremonies, dress and financial (and possibly sexual) autonomy incite a critical popular discourse on the immorality of women’s consumption, public work and narcissism. One legend of a cloth trader, Anta Gueye, known for her beauty, recalls that she wore a boubou costing CFA Fr. 800,000.00 (nearly US$ 3,000.00 or about a year’s salary for a bureaucrat) and spent 10 million on ritual gifts of cloth for her daughter’s baby’s naming ceremony. Whether or not this is true, such legends inspire the self-destructive excesses of ordinary women, which then lend fuel to ambivalent gendered discourses on modernity. While self-transformation, sañse, is valued, businesswomen’s fashion is seen as false display of ambiguous wealth.

Most importantly, the dirriankhe is a crafted identity of middle-class business-women whose sartorial performances reinvent work identities as tastemakers rather than accept disdain as common manual workers or traders. They strategically weave together work, sociability and self-fashioning. As patriarchal norms are challenged and displaced by the reality of male disempowerment and female economic activity, the ideal of femininity as nonchalant elegance has a new edge as the woman who comes face to face with crisis: juggling obligations, time and money, some even advancing, and doing so with the pleasure of looking good, ‘feeling good in one’s skin’, my friends say. In sum, the current appeal of the ideal of the dirriankhe is not that she represents static tradition but rather that she represents contemporary disintegrations, reinventions and recuperations of power, culture and values in a transnational world. It is for this reason – her disruptive as well as recuperative capacity – that the dirriankhe is the focus of cultural anxiety around gender and work, consumption and morality. A figure of elegance, transnationalism and Senegambian modernity, the dirriankhe, as image and lived reality, is embedded in the longue durée of Senegambian cosmopolitanism as well as more recent colonial and global encounters. As such, she condenses the multiple streams of history, culture and power through which Dakarois agents negotiate with the crisis strategies and creativities of cutur. On a broader scale, la mode Dakaroise emerges from these negotiations and transforms Dakar from a colonial capital to a global city.

Mirror Cities: Colonial Spheres and Global Cities

The conceit of the mirror for inter-urban influences in fashion aptly raises questions of imitation, narcissism, image-making and ephemeral images. The mirror reminds us of what is at stake in discussing Paris and Dakar, or any post-colonial dynamics of emulation, recognition and hierarchies of cultural capacity. Coastal global history, colonial projects and contemporary global restructuring created conditions of crisis and cosmopolitanism for La mode Dakaroise that endow it with a remarkable capacity to hybridize, reinvent and resist global hegemonies. As a nexus for Western European, Islamic and African cultures, Dakar has for centuries been a fashion capital of cultivated elegance of persons and things. The sartorial excellence of Dakarois is a living tradition that far exceeds French projects of colonial civility. Dakar is not a mirror city to Paris or anywhere else. Rather it provokes reflection upon the many spheres and hegemonic struggles that intersect in any city in Europe or Africa. As colonial cities transform into global cities, conceits such as the mirror and fashion city remind us that currencies of cultural brokerage and resistant creativities continually rearticulate local and global hierarchies. In Dakar’s ruins of the colonial mirror, spectacles of globalized hybrid creativity forge a contemporary fashion capital.


[1] I wish to thank Leslie Rabine and Didier Gondola for their helpful comments as I was preparing this chapter.

[2] I am inspired here by Didier Gondola’s invention of the term villes miroirs (F: mirror cities) to describe the intertwined histories of Kinshasa and Brazzaville as they looked at each other across the river Congo. See his study (1997) of La Sape, a fashion cult of male migrants between Congo and Paris.

[3] The exception to ethnic tolerance is the recent secession struggle of the Diola in Casamance region, who were long neglected by the central government. There the state has been repressive and violent.

[4] In the interior, colonial cash-cropping relied upon cooperation of marabouts, leaders of the Mouride, Sufi Islamic brotherhood, who organized hard labour to grow peanuts to be sold to French trading firms, which were managed by Lebanese. In response to ecological crisis in the region they have expanded into urban and, since the 1980s, transnational bases in the informal sector and trade. They now form a powerful and wealthy trade diaspora, and effectively partners of the state. Throughout satellite communities in New York, Turin and other Western cities their web of finance, advice, support and knowledge links urban entrepreneurs, male traders and artisans and young male migrant traders to maraboutic leaders to whom they tithe.

[5] By contrast to Senghor, Mobutu Sese Seko’s policy of cultural authenticity in culture banned European names, dress and culture generally when he seized power in 1971 in Zaire, formerly Belgian Congo. He banned European suits for men and pants and dress for women. He wore a signature leopard skin hat and promoted the abacos, a version of the suit, as official men’s dress (MacGaffey and Bazenguissa-Ganga 2000).

[6] In pre-colonial Senegambia, crafts had been organized through hereditary, low status castes of weaver, black/goldsmiths, praise singers/musicians, leather and woodworkers. While tailoring is not casted, many persons of caste entered into it. In Dakar, it is considered at once clean and modern but is considered a low status, manual occupation among the middle classes.

[7] While there are a few sweatshops in Sandaga market and a few elite shops of around twenty-five tailors, most ateliers are petit tailleurs: one man, his machine and apprentice. Some men share rental of a shop space and many are continually looking for day jobs. Women opened ateliers in their homes in garages, corridors, courtyards and spare rooms. Women’s shops, usually with one or two tailors, are riddled with tension. Tailors leave jobs suddenly, steal and sabotage. Aspiring to be artists, being exploited as workers, tailors complain of low wages, disrespect and being forced to do quick, shoddy work, which ruins their hand. I found that these complaints describe actual conditions for tailors and businesswomen in my research.

[8] Vlisco in Netherlands has long been a main wax producer, but Manchester, England also makes some. Wax is a cotton print that imitates the batik the Dutch saw in their Indonesian colonies and is exemplary of the circuits of colonial culture through one colony and imperial centre to another colonial zone. This of course debunks the authenticity of African cotton prints with stereotypically bright colours and ‘loud’ designs.

[9] Similarly, second-hand sewing machines, such as the lightweight Butterfly made in Taiwan, or the German Bernina for embroidery are brought in crate loads from Germany by Mouride traders. They are then modified for local styles and labour processes. Trade-in of second-hand goods from car parts, refrigerators, magazines to clothing is a large part of trade.

[10] Home-based operations open and close for peak season. There is a range of wage types from piecework to daily and monthly. Prices range from credit, often never fully repaid, to bargained prices. Free labour within social networks aids many to dress especially as the apprenticeship and community centre sewing schools expand. Some clients never pick up their orders because they cannot pay.

[11] This was explained to me by one of the few surviving hand-embroiderers of boubous, one of a few men who sit outside a mosque in Plateau. In the early 1990s such an elaborate motif cost from CFA Fr. 30,000 up to CFA Fr. 100,000, the same range as for the cloth and embroidery for a custom-made machine-made boubou. European damask cost CFA Fr. 3000, Taiwanese CFA Fr. 1500. These prices doubled after the 1994 devaluation. For holidays, marketplace sweatshops in Sandaga churn out ready-made boubous at CFA Fr. 10,000 in cheap Taiwanese damask and Nigerian thread for adults and children. This enables shoppers to dress for holidays with cash procured at the last minute.