Dear Toto

Notes from Burundi, Congo, and Malawi

Category: Fashion

Those Who Wait

by Pádraic

‘Made of More’ for Guinness

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DTF

by herehare

DTF {abbr. DearTotoFashion}

[n.] a peculiar style of sartorial expression noticed among inhabitants of the Kasungu region of Malawi; [adj.] DTFable; [fig.] image, sharp, very cool, having swagger; tongue-in-chic; [antonym] non-DTFable; [superlative] DTFest.

* * *

2 October 2011 | Kasungu, Malawi

Dear Toto,

This little get-up got me going:

{DTF at the Kasungu soccer ground}

The ludicrousness of the outfit sort of becomes not only its defining feature but works, I believe, to its own benefit. If a slightly older guy had tried to pull it off I wonder whether he might’ve looked a bit of a twat. If a much older guy had tried to pull it off that might be considered paedophilia. On this guy, however, from looking at his outfit I reckoned that he was a bit of a tool but he was, I have to admit, a fashionable tool.

I’ve noticed that very pretty girls often pick for their best friends very ugly girls (just look at Dorothy’s bunch of oddball mates – I mean, if you’re a girl and you’ve a very pretty best friend, I can only apologise and suggest developing a personality instead). In doing so the pretty girls remove themselves from immediate competition and purely by comparison in the eyes of the prima facie beholder make themselves seem even prettier.

You can see that here this basic ploy has been well em-ployed in sartorial terms:

{Non-DTFable}

Quite what the man on the right was thinking when he picked that out of his wardrobe that morning I have no idea. Perhaps all his t-shirts were stolen and he had to borrow one from his daughter.

Now, jackets are a key fashion statement around here. Normally reserved for a suited professional or, as I prefer, sported casually by the older gentleman, here the youth has given the classic garment an 80s twist by pushing the sleeves up to the elbows. What would look naff in a nightclub looks sharp at a soccer match.

The white shoes gather the outfit together nicely by matching with the untucked shirt and keeping the colour focus on the trousers. As I’m sure you know, black people always look good in strong colours and especially red, and this is no exception.

What you won’t know (until I enlighten you) is that the home team on this day was the Kasungu Medicals. Their colours are red and white. Not only has the fashionable tool turned himself out boldly and originally but he’s also been conscientious enough to let us know whom he’s supporting.

{Pied Piper of Kasungu Medicals}

Indeed I have with me a pair of red jeans (they are red, not, as some would maintain, pink) so perhaps the next time I’m at a Kasungu Medicals match I might flash a spot of my favourite colour – as you know, Toto, I’ve more than enough leg with which to sport it.

Two other fashion highlights from Kasungu so far include hats and waistcoasts. Even more retro than the outfit above, these fashion accessories can be either try-hard disasters or timeless classics.

{JT: try-hard or timeless? More like twat-in-a-hat.}

The variety of hats here bespeaks both outcomes. The best I’ve seen yet, worn by an ol’ fella, is the sort one might encounter on the head of a French aristocrat visiting his country chateau fifty years ago. Compact, tastefully green, and a little feather tucked into the rim. In this instance the chic was made compellingly shabby with the addition of a well-worn jacket and scuffed shoes.

Other headwear has been less successful, ranging from a surprisingly wide assortment of baseball caps to straw constructions which might better be seen as scale models of the Great Pyramid than accessories to be worn on one’s head.

I’ve long wondered how we are going to bring the hat back in. Not as some frivolous fashion ‘statement’, but as an essential organ of our sartorial make-up. I look back at the 1950s and ache for the suaveness of those cool, sharp hats. I think 50% of the appeal of Mad Men is the hats.

{The Adjustment Bureau: not as DTFable as Kasungu}

Recent film The Adjustment Bureau tried to capitalise on this (both casting Mad Men’s Roger Sterling, played to perfection by John Slattery, and adorning all of the Bureau’s ‘agents’ in 50s-style headgear), but being neither a period piece nor a good film the effect was lost and gives me little hope in the power of the workaday hat to bounce back. But perhaps, just perhaps, things might begin to change, starting right here in Africa. Outlandish dress codes are par for the course, and the elegance of a hat fulfils William Morris’ tenet of beauty and usefulness, looking suave while protecting the head from the heat of the sun.

Waistcoasts are, you might think, a strange addition in this climate. But worn either to smarten or jazz up a shirt, and always kept open, a plain, dark waistcoat appears effortless and effortlessly cool. Somewhat less effortlessly at school I founded Waistcoat Wednesdays. I was pictured on the front a school magazine wearing one (amid a shameful melee of colours – a clash, one might say). You will certainly notice, no doubt to your great horror, that the bottom button of the waistcoat is done up!

{“Pray you, undo this button” …a sartorial slip-up}

As I know you will be aware, Toto, one does not do up the bottom button of a waistcoat. (King Edward VII was so fat that his would not do up; so as not to embarrass the fat turd, the rest of the court had to ensure that their bottom buttons were left unbuttoned too.) Old boys and parents began to write in. It was causing something of a stir. I began to regret that my waistcoats – gathered mostly from up-market charity shops – had become so regular a fixture on my sartorial calendar. And then, joy of joys, a voice of sense and reason spoke out in the darkness. When wearing a square-bottomed ‘weskit’ with a jacket, thus spoke Zarathustra, the bottom button may be done up. I won’t claim to have known this then nor do I think the waistcoat is quite square-bottomed enough, but the matter was settled (we got to the button of it) and Waistcoat Wednesdays were restored to their former glory.

{Steve McQueen in the original The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968}

{DTF at its best. Note the bottom buttons.}

{Steve takes over the world}

But it is exactly this sort of sartorial snobbery that Kasungu is devoid of. Think of it as a fashion playground, where you’re free to experiment, express yourself, and not care for the consequences.

Neither will you find pretension in Kasungu. Take someone like Ne-Yo. Ne-Yo, while black, is the perfectly try-hard example of everything the hats and, particularly, waistcoats of Kasungu are not.

{Ne-Yo: no idea}

I wonder, Toto, what you make of all this. Does it seem totally absurd to you that we humans deck ourselves out in clothes of fanciful array while you dogs wander quite freely around the world completely starkers? I know some look down on your custom of popping your nose against a newcomer’s behind, but perhaps the smell of one’s arse is a better indicator of personality than their choice of clothes. One can’t cover up the very personal whiff of one’s bottom – but perhaps a lucrative business could be made with a line of ass-cologne. Toto’s Eau de Toilette.

Or, even better, Toto, why don’t you set up your own line of doggy waistcoats? In time you could expand to cardigans and trilbies. You could call the brand ‘Toto’s Togz {4 Dogz}’:

What do you think? Perhaps we’d better market it with the help of your world-famous image?

…or…

{Definite DTF}

Your international reputation as a canine style icon precedes you. And who can deny you have familiarity with waistcoats?

{The Waistcoat of Oz}

Toto, I must sign off now ahead of another fashion-filled foray into Kasungu, the town where the word ‘fripperies’ holds no meaning at all.

Anon, dear friend! S.T.G.M.