Although the way he dressed wasn’t much the focus on who the man was it somehow has managed to be a reoccuring thought to me since the end of Mandela’s time on earth December 5th. The thought was persistent as I scrolled through all the pictures that I saw on twitter, instagram and even when I watched Long Walk to Freedom at the screening a few weeks before at the Kennedy Center. I am not being superficial here and before you think/roll your eyes that am I really going to talk about a man’s clothes just hear me out.
(check out the double breasted pique lapel and the white handkerchief though with the part and smile to boot)
The clothes he wore at any time period that has pictures available were clean cut and simple. Stylish and practical. Like many of the roles he had throughout his life, you couldn’t and wouldn’t accuse him of being the fashionista of his days, but he dressed well. He wasn’t the fieriest orator, but he spoke well, he wasn’t the hottest politician of them all, but he looked good. Whatever it was he did, like his dressing, he was consistent and made a habit of GOOD and WELL. His hair was always neat and the signature part he rocked in his neatly combed and patted fro was cute. Subtle, but noticeable. Throughout his career as seen in pictures, the movie and real life, he was never shabby.
In jail, after having been in for a few months, he petitioned the prison guards to give all the prisoners full trousers instead of the shorts that the black prisoners were forced to wear. Some of his comrades laughed because they couldn’t imagine why of all the things lacking in that setting why that would be important. He, having the mind and foresight he had, explained the principle of the difference between wearing trousers vs shorts as a Black man in Apartheid South Africa. Once the requestwas granted and the prisoners were wearing pants a shift happened. The guards were more respectful to the prisoners and he prisoners themselves carried themselves with a little more outward dignity. A subtle, but significant change prompted by the simple, but powerful man.
I find his use of his own sense of style fascinating because it was so subtle, yet so distinct and influenced how he carried himself and how he was received. He made such a strong statement by being so understated in his dress and overall mannerisms.
May he forever live in our hearts and rest in peace…and inspire other men to know themselves and dress accordingly.