Thursday, 25 November 2010

What men wear

The men here dress in a huge variety of clothes - ranging from something like a western suit (those will be the ones who work in air conditioned offices)to outfits which, to the untutored eye, resemble pink frilly pyjamas.

The smartest people I have come across yet are those who work in the banks. I haven't been into a bank for a long time, because the most practical way to get money is from a cash dispenser (when it's working). Withdrawing money over the counter usually involves at least one long queue. A well ordered queue, mind you. It's not always easy to tell which booth has the shortest queue, because people don't necessarily stand in line; the system, as I eventually found out, is that you enquire as to who is last in the queue when you arrive, and then you just follow that person. Same thing for paying the electric or water bill. Occasionally people attempt to queue-jump and this is not well regarded. Queuing in banks is not unpleasant, as they are usually pleasantly cool (air-conditioned, except in a power cut) and with some seating. Not so everywhere.

Anyway, in the early days when I was waiting the several weeks for my bank card to be ready, and so frequenting the inside of banks, I was struck by how smartly dressed, in a western style, the bank employees were. Suits, shirts etc.

Public figures, such as the Ministers who have been conspicuous as patrons of various benevolent activities in the run up to the election, vary their dress between western suits and traditional outfits - they may turn up in a long tunic, worn over matching trousers, made of the local bazin. Village chiefs also vary in their approach, but tend, in my limited experience, to include at least one traditional element. For everyday work and play, young men will tend towards jeans, with perhaps a polo shirt or a short-sleeved cotton shirt of either western or traditional fabric - but may turn up from time to time in printed or embroidered brightly coloured matching shirt and trousers. For footwear - it could be flip-flops, trainers, or leather shoes - usually leather or pseudo-leather shoes if it's a western suit.

Sports kit - shorts, shirts, tracksuits, baseball caps - especially those for the popular footballers Drogba and Eto'o - are much favoured by the young too, and regarded as smart. T-shirts and polo shirts abound, and there are many examples of what must be discarded corporate wear from other countries. And, of course, as it has been election time, the t-shirts and baseball caps carrying pictures and slogans supporting Blaise Compaore which are a regular part of electioneering.

Older men tend to the traditional boubou - long tunic over trousers, often but not always a plain colour. Sometimes - generally I think among Muslims - this is accompanied with a cap. Professional men, such as doctors, psychologists, accountants, generally wear western style trousers with a short - or as it gets slightly less hot - long-sleeved shirt - but again may turn up from time to time in traditional dress of one sort or another.

And there are a few who wear ties, which seems a strange form of penance in this heat. Apart from the bank employees, I have seen ties on a waiter in an aspirational restaurant - tied so short it reminded me of rebellious schoolboys - and on a few officials. Ties are seen as exotic - for one of the recent festivals, one of the young men of the neighbourhood had got his hands on a tie; not knowing how to tie it (not part of the ritual of growing up here to learn that)he turned up on my doorstep for advice. I was of course happy to oblige - long time since I tied a tie for anyone! Anyway, he was pleased with the result, and considered it very 'cool' - probably the second or third most common English expression here (after bye-bye and weekend).

For special occasions, such as baptisms and marriages, or religious festivals, most men will wear traditional bazin outfits, and very fine they look too. Occasionally, as for the cinquantennaire of the school in Bobo, they will wear clothes made from specially printed pagne fabric. For burials, which are often held the day of death, it's come as you are if you get the text message in time.

And then, wandering around Bobo, there are several men (whose mental state is in some doubt)who wear either just a few rags, or absolutely nothing at all... They are well known local characters, showing little regard for either traffic or people. Perhaps they are the coolest of all?

For more pictures of what men, and boys (and some women) wear, follow this link:


  1. Hi Helen. I love the sound of the pink frilly pyjamas! And the description of queuing at the bank. I don't think it's regimented enough for British tastes. I've really enjoyed reading all your blogs, very entertaining observations of the life and culture you're experiencing. Best wishes, looking forward to the next one.
    Rachel C.

  2. queueing? whats that, we seem to have lost the habit here - the relaxed but fair way you describe seems most civilised... we should take note.
    hey you sneaked in a photo of you in local printed glazed cotton Hoorah.'cool' in all senses of the word.

    You are now amassing so many bits and pieces of stories and people.I can feel it all bubbling round in your mind - can I do something with all these observations? more stories, more writing, art? whas it going to be then? or will there have to be a longer gestation period?

  3. mmm, good question glynis, who knows? not me, yet...

  4. ..but as I thought,, there is a germ waiting to be 'inated' in the right conditions.
    Am sure big day events like that are really effective in some contexts...they stick in the mind and get talked about at the market for months.. etc etc..Sounds like your org. is pretty good on drawing in the media coverage.

  5. professional men's wear

    Awesome. The sleeve placket looks super professional. I made this pattern for my husband a couple of times and I really missed the back yoke piece. But both of his shirts were casual and short sleeve so it didn't seem to matter. If I make it again, though, I'll add a back yoke. And maybe a sleeve placket if I'm not too scared!