Pagne: a pleasure and a pain

Today’s guest post is by Aleyna Diouf, also known by her blog handle: Une Toubab à Dakar. She’s a French mom of three with a Senegalese husband and an incredible talent for writing about the joys and struggles of living cross-culturally. (And she’s a beautiful jaay fonde!)

In everyday life, our bodies must adapt to the clothing we put them in. So if you used to wear a size 4, you shouldn’t be surprised if the button on your pants pops off or if your tush refuses to be crammed into a pencil skirt after several months of a steady diet of mafé/pizza, pizza/mafé.

But a pagne is a completely different story. It conforms to your shape, and even makes it look better! What a pleasure…

Well, what a pleasure and a pain!

Why a pain? In part because you can pile on the pounds without even noticing, but especially because the skill of tying a pagne can be a real challenge for newbies!

Photo from "Le Pagne Africain": Fierté de la Femme Africaine Elégante

Photo from “Le Pagne Africain”: Fierté de la Femme Africaine Elégante

Before coming to Senegal, I owned several pagnes. You know, the kind that resemble a beach cover-up with little decorative beads. I wore them as skirts around the house. Since I didn’t really know how to tie them securely, I went for plan B. I guess it was actually plan U as in ‘underwear’ since that’s where I wound up stuffing the ends to avoid an accidental striptease at any moment.

When I landed here, I didn’t own a single authentic Senegalese outfit, and several days after our arrival was Korité, which meant I needed to wear a costume get dressed up. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law happily stepped in to loan me several ensembles.

So I wore my first outfit, which included a lightweight Indian-style veil and a bright yellow pagne. And when it came time to put on this lovely outfit, I had to call my sister-in-law to come to my rescue!

How does this thing work??

Just a quick lesson in pagne-ing later, a couple accessories and jewelry pieces, and I was ready for my first Senegalese event in proper dress!

And then the challenges began because a pagne is like a wrap dress – you never know how to sit in it! Or with the slightest wind you risk showing off everything you’ve got to anyone walking past. But especially for the novice toubab, the problem is that without a good understanding of pagne-ing, you’re in constant fear that this lovely piece of fabric that’s covering your drianke bottom will disappear to the floor if you make a wrong move!

Since that day, I’ve had the opportunity to become a pagne pro: no more rolling, no more falling, no more squeezing me to the point of not being able to walk up the stairs… I also learned an important tip about which side to tie the knot (always put the left side under the right side, otherwise you may send the wrong message and be mistaken for a floozie!)

Another tip is to stand with your legs slightly apart when you tie it so that you can still walk and move comfortably.

I no longer feel like I’m wearing a costume when I put on a pagne, but I feel like myself! I have pagnes in wax, bazin, thioup… I wear them at home, on Fridays, on holidays… There are some that also work for carrying my baby girl on my back, with a D-ring to make a baby sling or as a wrap on chilly days, etc…

Pagnes are much more than just an item of clothing, and that’s the real pleasure in wearing them!

There are also the sexy little pagnes called bethio, but that’s another topic for another post… coming soon!

How to put on a pagne

1. Open the pagne fabric and place it behind your tush, holding the ends in your hands.
2. Close the pagne by bringing your hands forward towards your kidneys.
3. Pull the left end over to your right.
4. Pull the right end over to your left.
5. If there are strings, tie them behind you.
6. If there are no strings, tie the ends at kidney level and tuck in the ends.

Original post from Une Toubab à Dakar. Translated by Khady.


5 thoughts on “Pagne: a pleasure and a pain

  1. Pingback: Things you learn when you move to Senegal | Senegal Daily

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