Underneath this physical appearance are layers of localized implicit knowledge and networks of gift giving. Through their ensembles, some Senegalese women powerfully manipulate fashion for sociopolitical and economic ends in the changing and fractured urban centers of Senegal.
Styling: Portraits of Women from Past to Present
Women in urban Senegal have been visiting photography studios to stylize and portray themselves in the most elegant of fashions, poses, and jewelry since at least the1910s and 1920s. In imaging themselves and displaying their photos, they demonstrate their chic modernity, their civilisé, their sañse. They also commemorate important events, such as weddings, religious affairs, and naming ceremonies.
In today’s global social media environment, styles and fashions are shared instantly, and the tastes of discerning connoisseurs adapt swiftly and deftly to the trends, as women adorn, pose, snap, post, comment, and influence one another.
And yet in these portraits, women are not just documenting themselves and their lives, they are also amplifying their visibility to demonstrate their potential for a positive, successful future. By presenting themselves as wealthy, cosmopolitan, and successful, they convince others to invest in them through an extensive informal economy of fundraising collectives (called tontines or natt), microcredit, and gift giving. Photographs are performances of reputation, social class, and urban belonging. They are not just about beauty—they are also strategies for dealing with the economic anxiety and global volatility of modern city life with style.