How long have you lived in Senegal?
I’ve lived in Senegal for 13 years, and six of those in Saint-Louis.
Most days, what do you wear?
The full thing. The full Senegalese thing. Musoor (headscarf), pagne (skirt), top, slip, scarf, jewelry, earrings… The full thing.
Do you wear belly beads?
Bine bines? Ha! No, I’m not married.
So why wear all Senegalese clothes?
That’s a hard one to explain… Because the women I work with do. And I want to be culturally appropriate, honor God and honor my Senegalese sisters. And they’re fun, colorful and no need to fix your hair if you’re wearing a musoor!
What percentage of your clothes are Senegalese?
Honestly, 85%. Eighty-five percent of my clothes are Senegalese.
Do you have a favorite item of Senegalese clothing or an outfit that you just really love?
My favorite boubou (outfit) is made from a very nice thioup from Mali –
Wait, explain thioup.
It’s a hand-dyed treatment of fabric that Malians are known for. They do it with bazin riche fabric. I had it made with gold embroidery and I just love it and love wearing it. I feel like a queen. And people treat me like one when I wear it.
What’s something you think toubabs don’t understand about Senegalese clothing culture?
You really want to hear this?
Okay… I think sometimes people don’t realize how important appearance is in Wolof culture. Women leaving the house without earrings, wearing the same formal boubou to two events rather than getting a new one, wearing Senegalese clothes that are starting to fade or aren’t well ironed… These can all be quite offensive in Wolof culture. What you wear shows respect for the other person. It’s not just about modesty – but that’s key too. It’s about looking nice, from head to toe.
This is good! Tell me more…
Well, I guess it’s continuing the same line, but getting properly dressed even if you’re going down the street to buy a carrot. It always matters. People notice.
So who do you ask when you have fashion questions?
I ask some of my women friends who dress really classy. One friend helps me with my shoes, another with fabric. But actually I’m pretty good at picking out fabric, or at least my friends say I am! I just love the fabrics and enjoy wearing them.
Your choice is a pretty unique one among toubabs. Do you find yourself defending your decision often?
It’s certainly a frequent discussion. The Senegalese seem to love it and really appreciate it. I get strangers stopping me on the street saying ‘thank you’ and that really means a lot to me that they feel I’m honoring their culture. As far as toubabs, most people just ask questions – and that’s fine. I know my choice is different, but my context is different too. I live in Saint-Louis and work with women.
Fatou Kiné blogs at Cup of Jo.