31 May 2013

A Dress is Born

I've been spoiled by tailors.  Or, rather, by one in particular.  My belle mere (isn't that a smart translation of "mother-in-law"? Literally, "beautiful mother.") is a tailor and I've missed the custom couture since we've been 6,000 miles apart.

So, I decided to do what everyone else in the country does: call a couturier.

Despite Congo's multiple wins as "worst-poorest-most downtrodden-etcetera place on earth," the people don't look shabby.  Most of the clothes people wear around here arrive to Africa squashed by the ton into a gigantic bale of cast-offs.  These are the Goodwill rejects.

Despite this, most folks in the city never appear crumpled and in fact, usually look pretty fabulous.  You know why?  Tailors.  There are couturier - or tailors - everywhere and despite significant income restrictions, Kinois prioritize the power of the cloth nip and tuck.  Pants are perfectly skinny.  Dresses fit like a glove.  Skirts are penciled to highlight the best curves.  Even if you are a housekeeper and make a relative pittance, you know somebody who can work the necessary magic on your wardrobe.  Or, more likely, you are also a gifted seamstress and you do it yourself.

Which is where Landrine comes in.

Oh yeah.  She's also incredibly gorgeous.  

Landrine works on campus cleaning houses and word got out that she could sew.  It was a pair of shorts that started it.  Last year, she made a pair of pleated shorts out of pagne for another teacher and we were all sold.  Let me say that again.  Pleated shorts.  Somehow, she made pleated shorts in a shockingly loud pattern something extremely desirable.  That is serious talent.

So, I asked her if she would make me a dress like this:

Buy this version here.

Something sweet and short and fun to go with this fabric I bought while in Ghana last March:

So, we got to work.  First, with the measurements:

I love notebooks.  Isn't this great?

And, then, Landrine disappeared for several days with a copy of the dress example, her notebook, and the cloth from Ghana.  

She returned with this:

Super lovely.  Super fast.  Super inexpensive.

The fact that this custom dress (with three fittings along the way) only cost a few dollars is a little tough.  The fabric alone would cost more in the U.S than I paid for the entire experience.  Am I ripping off Landrine by paying her so little?  Taking advantage?  It's one of those questions that comes up when you suddenly find yourself a fantastically rich (compared to everyone around you) expat living in a developing nation.  But, what if I did pay her the same as my American mother-in-law might charge a customer for the same process and labor?  It would be strange to pay a month's salary for one simple dress.  And what would a price hike mean for everyone else that wants a new dress?  What about that general dedication to neatness, style, and fit that can only be achieved for normal people in Congo with a little help from the likes of Landrine?

So, I paid.  And she was pleased.  And so was I.

But, I haven't quite been brave enough for the pleated shorts yet.  Maybe next year.


  1. dear Landrine- Isn't it fun to create for her? Great work. I bet you feel so proud of your dress, especially when the beautiful Jill is wearing it! (I love your posts, Mama Congo/Jill.)

  2. This post has all the elements I admire in a story: a quest for a great garment (I'm partial to dresses), a few pictures of Jill, a bit of DRC news and a moral. Way to go Jill. Hope to see you in this dress soon!


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