Quotients and Style in Africa

Published on 12th March 2008

In a rapidly visual, image-obsessed world where we are assessed dozens of times in a day, what we wear may be used to raise or lower our Style Quotient (SQ). Propagating the misconception that dressing the western style is a ticket to be ‘smarter’ than the rest is a setback to expressing our ability to cut out our own style.

In the last issue of this column, we addressed the looming lack of parity between the IQ and SQ of the educated. Some readers raised concern that I use the Whiteman’s style to set standards for Africa and the rest of the world.

When I was in school as a marketing student, I learnt and understood the process of using systematic methods to present ideas in the best way possible. This included presenting our bodies in the best package we could access. Our teacher insisted that as marketers, our vocabulary should get rid of the words ‘good’ and ‘better’ to allow enough room for BEST.

If my marketing lessons are anything to go by, our fashion ideal ought be at our best and not ‘good enough’ or ‘better than the other’ level. The bone of contention here is not about wearing the conservative suit to work or keeping the dreadlocks. It is about neatness, style and relevance. Knowledge of societal expectations will enable us adopt the standard dressing code hence earn us better reputation even as we strive to protect our individuality.

If the African agenda has to be articulated, we need to crack the ‘image code’ before our noble ideas can find their way through. Otherwise, burying our heads in the sand hoping that we will find another way out will take us thus far and no further.

Hollywood, Nollywood (Nigeria’s version) and Riverwood (Kenya’s) may have created perceptions to the belief that it's not what you wear that makes you good, but how you do your job.  While this may carry some truth, the whole truth is that we do not live in Hollywood; we live in a world in which business is a cutthroat battle.  Whether corporate, industry, middle or micro-enterprise, for one to gain market share from competitors, image is a vital requirement.  If you are within the corporate world, you do not secure top clients dressed in tattoos detailing dragons spitting fire, or a hairstyle that could easily be mistaken for the rainbow. You want your image to be a replica of the sharp African that you are. But if you run an advertising firm for cosmetics or some other fancy items, the features might just carry the day.

‘Dress appropriately’ is a common advice to people attending interviews worldwide. If we, Africans are brave enough, why don’t we change the way we carry out interviews so that the candidate with the most ‘unkempt’ image gets the job. Haven’t we been so insincere long enough? To whose standards do we check our image when preparing for the interviews?

Across the globe, the workplace is becoming the catwalk of corporate wear (Companies purchasing dresses for the employees) with everyone contending for the best-dressed title in many offices. This has led to an explosion of colour and trends in the corridors as many seek to outdo their work colleagues in the fashion stakes.

My African colleagues who view packaging our bodies in the best ways possible as an insult to our heritage have their right of opinion, but theirs might just be the weight sinking the African SQ.


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