Fashion is the medium and the message

Richard Thompson Ford in The Hedgehog Review:

The pursuit of authenticity in fashion has taken more than a few interesting turns in the modern world. Consider its role in the political project of President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, who during the early 1970s imposed a series of cultural reforms known as the retour à l’authenticité (return to authenticity) designed to rid the nation of European influences. Cities named after Europeans and colonial officials were given African names: Leopoldville became Kinshasa; Stanleyville, named after the Welsh explorer who established European rule, became Kisangani. Mobutu’s government encouraged citizens to change their Christian names and threatened any parent giving a child a Western name with five years’ imprisonment.

Mobutu also banned European attire, imposing a sort of national uniform—a Mao-style tunic called an abacost—short for à bas le costume, or “down with the suit”—inspired by a visit to the People’s Republic of China in 1973. The abacost, thick horn-rim glasses, and a leopard-skin fez or toque became the signature style of dress for Mobutu, who controlled Zaire until 1997.

More here.