What Is the Traditional Clothing of the Congo?

Traditional Congolese clothing is most often characterized by its bright colors and designs. Called pagne, these bright fabrics are worn by both men and women, and in the case of women, they are typically worn with a corresponding headscarf. Women traditionally fashion the fabrics into long skirts, and the pagne, or wrapper, can be either formal or informal, ranging from simply draped fabric to a fully tailored outfit.

A pagne is typically a piece of fabric cut into a 2-by-6 yard piece and can be either single-sided or double-sided depending on the design of the fabric. The pagne is used to create dresses through tailoring and can also be used as a head wrap, to carry a child or goods and as a body wrap or skirt. Derived from French, and meaning simply loincloth, the word has come to refer to a cloth of the above size made for everyday wear. Men also use pagne to create colorful pants and outfits.

In the modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, men and women most commonly pair the traditional pagne with western elements to create an outfit that draws on both types of dress. As of 2014, western clothing as a whole has become rather popular in the country, and a mix of styles are commonly present.