One of the things you notice here in the Congo is that people work with what they have. They don’t have a lot, so they seldom throw things away, but always find some use for everything. This is true for clothing also.
People in the Congo are very modest. Although they don’t seem to have the same issues with body image and being naked that we do in the west ( women have no fear or hesitancy of exposing their breasts while feeding their children, and both men and women don’t seem to have a fear of being seen naked), they are, in fact, very modest. All adults and children wear clothes that are very modest. Seldom will you see men or women in revealing or immodest clothes, as you would in the west. It seems to be a contradiction–they don’t have body/weight/nakedness issues at all, yet they all dress modestly.
Also, they have no problem wearing whatever clothes they can find. Most of the western style clothes here have obviously come from clothes given away by generous NGOs or bought from dealers who sell used western clothes. As a result, you often see shirts with logos on them, or sports teams, or advertising, etc. One of the most popular t-shirts is a yellow shirt with the number 79 on it. They are everywhere! And since most people here do not speak or read English, no one really knows what their t-shirts say…this leads to some very amusing contradictions: people wearing shirts with logos or pictures or sayings that they probably should not wear!
For example, we have seen missionaries wearing t-shirts with ads for beer, or cigarettes, or even brothels! One sister had a shirt advertising the Mustang Ranch–a famous Las Vegas brothel… hmmm. Or others with swear words or defamatory sayings on them, totally oblivious to their meaning and context.
The clothes worn by children are worn until they are tattered and falling off. We have often seen children wearing shirts that have been torn or worn to the point they are almost rags–they might as well wear nothing…but as mentioned above, they feel they must wear something!
The other day I saw a man running down the street wearing flip-flops that had to be his daughters! They were way too small, and pink. As they often came off as he ran, he would slip them back on and start running again. I guess they were better than nothing, but it was too funny!
Many men wear winter hats here. Not sure why…even in the winter season it is not cold here, but many wear hats that have to be very hot–perhaps as a style statement?
Strangely enough, they have beautiful clothes here in the Congo. Women wear beautifully colored cloth–seldom sewn into dresses as you would find in a store, but square pieces of cloth wrapped around them and tied. Usually you see them on older women, or in church, or in the outlying areas, as most city women purchase western style clothes.
Women in the Congo wear wigs. I guess this is true in the States also, I just have never noticed it until I got here. They cut their hair short and then purchase wigs to wear. About the only time you will see women wearing ‘natural’ hair here is in the little villages you pass or on small children (although we have seen primary children wearing wigs here). For those who attempt to wear their natural hair, they only have a few options, as their hair is so hard to manage: they braid them (they will spend hours braiding each others hair, often weaving in fake hair or colored hair), or twist them into straight stalks.
Personally I like the natural look of their hair, although it must be terribly difficult to keep looking good. They do have thousands of different styles of wigs here, and they are relatively cheap also.