Yay! It’s lesson time! Traditional Beninese clothing!
First, the fabric. There are lots of different kinds of fabric, but the stuff I can afford is the stuff you’re probably used to seeing. Large bright prints (waxes, actually) that are bought by the pagne (2 meters). There are three pagnes in a demi-piece, which is the length I usually buy. A demi-piece is enough for a top, bottom, and a pagne.
To give you a better idea of prices, one pagne ranges from 750 CFA ($1.50) to upwards of 30 000 CFA ($60). Usually the stuff I buy is around 5 000 to 6 000 ($10 – $12) for three.
A pagne is also a finished piece of cloth, still 2 meters long, worn wrapped around the body as a skirt. It also makes an effective towel, a comfortable sheet, and a serviceable cheese cloth (although occasionally they do dye whatever I’m straining . . . green ricotta cheese . . . mmmm). I use them as sacks (tie the corners together), pillows on long trips, cover-ups at the beach, cover-ups when I take a zemi in a skirt, and a dozen other things. Pagnes are fucking USEFUL. I will be bringing several home. Haha.
A complete is a modele (fitted top) and a jupe (skirt). It takes two pagnes to make. The tops are generally closely fitted, but can also be loose and flowing. The skirts are long (always!) and fitted. They’re oval cut, which means they get narrower at the knees, then usually flare out at the bototm. To give you an idea, I have to TAKE OFF the skirt to use the bathroom, instead of hiking it up over my hips. Yep. Usually the tops and bottoms are lined so that they lay better.
Complete + pagne = une grande beninoise, which is just a fancy way of saying a complete outfit.
The modele and jupe are nice, and are, in fact, what most professional women wear, but the traditional Beninese attire is a boobma. Yep, it’s a demi-piece again. From that, you get a loose-fitting top with a wide neck and long wide sleeves. This is tucked into the pagne you have wrapped around your waist. The third pagne is worn as a second wrap around the waist, as a head wrap, or folded and lain over one shoulder. A well dressed woman always has the extra pagne. I rarely think to grab the extra one in the morning, and thus, am rarely REALLY well dressed.
Men also have a version of the boomba. It’s pants on bottom, of course, with pockets. The top is loose fitting like the female version, but includes artfully hidden snaps down the front so that they can unbutton and cool off. Lucky bastards. Pants AND buttons. Often the male version includes embroidery around the collar, sleeves, and pockets. Yes, I have a man’s boomba. I love it.
My seamstress is excellent. She does a fantastic job with Beninese clothes, and, now that I’ve explained that Western clothes fit differently, she does a fantastic job with thsoe too. She has about 6 apprentices who are well on their way to becoming damn good tailors as well. She knows my waistlines should sit about and inch and a half below my belly button. She knows that I like Western skirts to be loose and comfortable, not snug like Beninese bottoms. And she knows that unless it’s something really nice, I’m going to find lining too damn hot for the weather here.
A boomba costs 500 CFA ($1) to sew. The price of a complete depends on the complexity of the top and bottom ordered, but generally runs between 2 000 CFA ($4) and 4 000 CFA ($8). A male boomba is around 2 000 CFA ($4=. Embroidery costs between 1 000 CFA ($2) and 3 000 CFA ($6) , again, depending on complexity etc. I tend to eschew (sp?) embroidery.
I really like the clothing here. The light cotton fabric is perfect for the heat, and believe it or not, there are days when covering up keeps me cooler. It’s also easier to just throw on local stuff than to worry about whether I’m dressed appropriately or not. The boolba is possibly the least sexy thing I’ve ever worn, but strangely enough, the men here go nuts over it.
And it helps that I can pick out quality fabric have it custom tailored into a beautiful outfit for under $20.
It occurs to me that this would be better with pictures. Dammit.