Q&A: Fatou Kiné from Saint-Louis

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Fatou Kiné

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!

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Working with women in Saint-Louis

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.

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Her favorite Senegalese boubou

What’s something you think toubabs don’t understand about Senegalese clothing culture?
You really want to hear this?

Yup. Absolutely.
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.

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Matching outfits!

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.

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Thank you for sharing with us, Fatou Kiné!

Fatou Kiné blogs at Cup of Jo.


Lively jacket

Meet my friend Shannon, an energetic little thing from Ohio. She’s living in Senegal and working with university students here in Dakar.

She was showing me this adorable new jacket she had made at the tailor this week, and I just had to take a picture. I love the giant buttons, the way the back flares out, and, of course, the lively colors.

Too cute!

Too cute!

Strike a pose.

Strike a pose.

The back is my favorite part.

The back is my favorite part.

 And, for the best part of all… she only paid 6,000cfa (about $12!) to have it made. Simply amazing!

Cute with jeans and a black shirt.

Cute with jeans and a black shirt.

I just might have to find out who her tailor is and have one made in every color.

Behind our Scenes

Yesterday I helped create this fashion blog. Ooh là là!

Today I went to buy veggies wearing this:


Jersey harem pants and the world’s most comfortable-despite-clunkiness sandals.

I felt this was important to share. You know, just in case you thought this blog might be filled with crazy, over-the-top fashion stuff by people who always look oh-so-put together. Sure, we love those moments. But, like everyone, we have our stretched out, comfy clothes we fall back on.

(Maybe one day, if I’m really inspired to get real, I’ll post a picture of my dearly loved gray lounge pants and top from IKEA that my husband nicknamed ‘The Cement Suit’.)

What about you? What are your fall-back clothes?

My Signature Piece…

My Signature Piece...

Everyone has their “signature piece”. Whether it is a necklace you always wear, or earrings, or even your favorite scarf! Mine is GIANT rings! I LOVE wearing giant rings…and in Africa you can find all kinds of cool, unique, giant rings! This one is my fave! It was made by a designer in Rwanda (Mille Colline). It is made from the horn of an African cow–and it is a great conversation piece! What is your signature piece?

One of my favorites

All dressed up.

All dressed up.

As much as I love this fabric, I didn’t really have much say in the actual choosing of it. Blue and red are two of my favorite colors, so it was a double bonus that they were both incoorporated in the fabric. The reason I didn’t have much say in the choosing of this fabric, was because it was the women in my village community group (in the Casamance – southern Senegal), who chose it for our group of 30+ women. We were going to be going to a wedding ceremony together, and, (as they often like to do here), they wanted us all to match. I’m not really a matchy-matchy kind of person, but it was fun because we each got to take our fabric to the tailor and design whatever ‘look’ we wanted for the wedding ceremony. I had fun looking through magazines and picking out the dress (with pants!!) that I wanted to wear.

It’s not every day that you’ll see me dressed in traditional African clothes, so I thought I’d kick off this new blog with a picture of me “all dressed up and ready for the party”… featuring a headscarf, too!

Going traditional

Attending a Wolof baby naming ceremony, called an ngente, is the perfect excuse for us to invest in some traditional Senegalese clothing. So we did.

Brodé fabrics with embroidery

Step 1: Go to HLM market (the place for buying fabric in Dakar). Get an idea of what’s in style now… but also get overwhelmed and leave without buying clothing or fabric for having something made by a tailor.

Wax impressions dorées from Sandaga market

Step 2: Talk to Elisa, my very stylish Senegalese friend, and get her opinion on what we should wear. In the end, she offered to go buy fabric for us and take it to her tailor with our measurements and drawings of what we wanted.

Bazin riche with embroidery

Step 3: Debate endlessly what colors and styles we want. Finally make a decision and give details to Elisa, along with money for fabric and tailor.

– My husband decided on an obasanjo, which is a long tunic top worn over matching drawstring pants, made from bazin riche fabric. The style was made popular by the former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo.

– I chose brodé fabric because it’s the coolest, thanks to all the little lacy holes… and I think it’s pretty. I originally wanted a long top and skirt, but Elisa laughed at me and said I would have a very hard time wearing a wrap skirt. So we went with a short-sleeved dress instead.

– My cousin who was here visiting went with a more youthful style (read: not married, pregnant lady). She chose a taille-basse outfit which has a short-sleeved top and flared skirt, a style called trapèze. In the end, we bought her fabric ourselves at Sandaga market downtown. It’s a beautiful green wax impressions dorées fabric with gold accents.

Embroidery on my dress

Step 4: Elisa updates us that due to power cuts, it’s going to be tiiiight for the tailor to finish in time for our trip.

Wax impressions dorées from Sandaga market

Step 5: The clothes are finished in time! We tried them on and did a little fashion show for Elisa, who then helped us pick out the right shoes, purses and jewelry to wear with them.

Jewelry approved by Elisa

Step 6: Take Headscarf Tying 101, taught by Elisa. We passed with flying colors.