Nelson Mandela’s dress style, image and charisma.

Nelson Mandela

“Appearances constitute reality.”  -Nelson Mandela.

As Richard Stengel wrote: At every stage of his life he decided who he wanted to be and created the appearance – and then the reality – of that person. He became who he wanted to be.

Today marks the 95th birthday of a frail but still powerful man: Nelson Mandela, Madiba to us South Africans. Happy birthday, Madiba. This is a post that is long overdue. I wanted to do this for a very long time, but alas, today is the perfect day.

This is not about Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician, ex-president of South Africa or any of those descriptions. I simply want to write about Nelson Mandela’s image, style and charisma.

Richard Stengel, Times magazine editor and journalist, and collaborator with Mandela on his  autobiography, also wrote an inspiring book titled:  Mandela’s way, Lessons on Life, about the wisdom he learned from the old man. Chapter five has the title: Look the part, as a topic of one of the lessons, but the complete book is an exquisite example of Mandela ‘s light

  • He understood that others can read your character through your appearance – he argued that it does not make sense not to judge by appearance
  • His opinion was that you have to wear the right costume to play the part if you want to pass the audition.  Through his life he acted and supported his different roles through his love for clothes: as the ward of the king of Thembuland, where as a young man he had to press the king’s suits, as a student, as a young lawyer, as the President of South Africa.
  • There are even photos taken of him in prison where one can almost just add a tie to conjure up a corporate makeover.

mandela in prisonAs Richard Stengel wrote in Mandela’s way: one of his first battles in Robben Island prison was over clothing. The regulations said that black prisoners had to wear shorts, where as prisoners designated as Indian and the mixed race, Coloureds, could wear long pants. He found it insulting to wear short pants and fought this fiercely.

  • As a lawyer, Mandela was always known for his sharp suits and as an extravagant and stylish dresser. One of the first thing he did was to find a tailor – a relative unheard of luxury in those days.

mandela lawyer

Mandela knew that to dress appropriately and to fit in with the surrounding group is for sure a winning recipe, as illustrated in the following two cases.

  • For Mandela’s meeting with former South African president, P.W.Botha, to start discussing his release, he organized from his famous prison cell for a three-piece suit to be made for him. His thought was that wearing a prison suit will be to his disadvantage, and that it was crucial for his negotiations to be on equal footing with Mr. Botha.
  • In 1995, when the South African national Springbok team won the Rugby World Cup against New Zealand,  the former star winger, Chester Williams remarked: “When Nelson Mandela walked into the changing room wearing that Springbok rugby jersey, it was done. We had to win that game.

mandela springbok

“Everybody expected him to wear a suit and tie. It changed the attitude and spirit of the team — and it changed the whole mind-set of the nation.“      

  • Richard Stengel wrote: Mandela was concerned about appearances on a far grander scale than just what suit he was wearing. He understood the power of the image.
  • It was indeed not only Nelson Mandela’s sense and love for style and clothes that made him the charmer he was. He also understood the value of a beautiful upright posture as well as a broad, sincere smile which spreaded easily and often over his face. Both these habits showed his inner confidence to the world.

mandela smiles

  • He always acted as a host.
  • He knew how to plan and visualise. He planned and executed his powerful actions in fine detail to work magic. Timing is of great importance, for eg. the precise moment to enter a hall to make the biggest impact. He figured out beforehand whom to shake hands with and when.
  • Mandela understood that by taking the lead, he conferred authority: to be the first to extend your hand to shake hands, to be the first to applause and congratulate, to greet other people, instead of to be greeted by others.
  • As President, he only wore suits when the occasion required. Instead he developed his own style to fit in with and relate to his people. He became famous for his colourful, flamboyant silk shirts. The Madiba silk shirt can be brightly coloured or more subdued, but definitely with a print.  He always wears  it buttoned to the collar, and never tucked in. Perfectly casual-classic and ultimately chic. It is named after Mandela’s clan name “Madiba”, an honorary title adopted by all members of his clan. The Madiba shirt was designed by Desré Buirski  and first worn by the then newly-elected president at the dress rehearsal of the opening of South Africa’s first democratic Parliament in May 1994.

Mandela shirt

  • The Nelson Mandela Foundation has launched a sportswear line, 46664, named after his prison ID number.

“Mandela is aware that images have the tremendous power to shape how we are perceived. He is a genius at what sociologists call ‘impression management. ” – Richard Stengel.

White ties and marabou wraps

Obamas white tie function

You may not often receive an curly font invite on thick embossed paper and wax sealed envelope for a White Tie Function – in fact, maybe once in a lifetime –  but that is exactly why we do not know the proper dress code and customs of this type of functions.  This is also the one time and place where you do not want to put a foot wrong as etiquette is so much more important at such an event.

In the photos above one sees a good comparison between a Black tie event on the right, and the typical formal elements of a White tie event in the left photo:  the white tie, tail coat and opera length gloves.

Although this dress code refers to the man’s attire, there are definitely very specific guidelines for women as well, so let’s take it step by step:

  • Dress:  your choice, but definitely expected to be full length, nothing less – no question about that


  • Shoes:  the highest you are comfortable in. Fabric pumps (satin, velvet etc.) would be proper, but any very special and sparkling shoe will be pretty. I would prefer a shoe to a sandal, but there would be dresses and occasions where a delicate high heel metallic sandal would not be wrong. Special shoe jewelry could also be used to step up your shoes if they are a little understated.

  • Evening bag:  A minaudiere would be best – that little bag that looks more like jewelry than a bag. Or choose an eye catching evening bag with diamanté  or beads. A clutch bag is more correct than a long sling bag. It should really be just big enough for you makeup compact with lipstick, mobile phone, reading glasses and perhaps, keys.


Do check out the luxury handbag queen, Judith Leiber´s collections of minaudieres and bags, often in animal shapes.

Long gloves and shoulder coverings are very common accessories at the White Tie event.

  • The Wrap:  Shoulder wraps in fur or feather, or perhaps a pashmina with Swarovski crystals

Marabou feather red shrug for cashmere pashminas with Swarovski beads.

  • Gloves: Long opera gloves (i.e. over the elbow) would add a nice touch. Although this is very debatable, it seems that is today permissible to wear  rings over your gloves. A bracelet is definitely fine, in my opinion.You should not take your gloves off until seated at a table and then only put it on again after the meal.
  • Jewelry: this is the type of function where royal and aristocratic women wear tiaras, so that gives you the clue to step up with jewelry. This means that you should –not only may or can –  wear heirlooms and precious jewelry.  This is also the only time that you may deck yourself with those threesome sets of matching necklace, earrings and bracelet and it would probably not look overdressed. OK, it all depends on your dress fabric and other dress detail.
  • Watch: no watch ,only for the boys. At a White tie event time is of no importance.
  • Hair:  You should compliment a special evening dress with a special hair do and makeup. This means, ladies, that you should visit the hairdresser for preferably a pretty swept up hair style or at least specially done to match your (probably) expensive dress. Depending on your jewelry, pretty hair jewelry can also add a very festive touch, but always remember to have a focus: do not try to overpower by wearing everything  in your jewelry box for this big occasion. Getting the balance right is what style is about.

Formal hairstyle

  • Make-up:  should also be applied heavier and be more sparkly. And go for a pretty red lip to match! If this function is not your chance to look and feel like a princess, you might not get the chance again.
  • Frown upon and inappropriate: cocktail or ankle length dresses and bare shoulders – rather not at academic white tie functions.

[contact-form][contact-field label='Name' type='name' required='1'/][contact-field label='Email' type='email' required='1'/][contact-field label='Website' type='url'/][contact-field label='Comment' type='textarea' required='1'/][/contact-form]

White tie Nobel function

The power of your voice

I used to work for a national radio for quite a number of years and among other jobs, also as a continuity broadcaster.  I am thus always aware of people’s speaking voices and often very surprised by them too.

This blog was initiated by a lady just behind me on the train, talking continuously to her friend.  I guessed her to be a little lady roundabout 50 to 60 years old. Haha! Big was my surprise  when we stepped off at the same station. She and her friend were young, modern girls, definitely not even near 30!

Your voice say a lot about you

  • We all like to dress more modern and try to fight off signs of aging, so, would you like to be perceived as older than you are by your tone of voice? You may know by now how important it is to dress to impress, but did you know that what you convey through your tone of voice and other vocal qualities add up to 38% of the perception people have about you?
  • Have you ever before got a surprise when you have heard an almost Chipmunk voice coming from an adult person? I am not a voice coach, I just want to make you aware of the color of your voice.  When you are tense your voice will automatically sound high pitched and strained. That can easily happen when you are trying so hard to make a good impression and leave a perfect image while  delivering a presentation! Talking in front of a crowd – big or small – may not be very normal to most people.   So how can you controll your voice:

– Breath slowly in and out to get your pace slower and even

– Speak controlled, pay attention to diction and focus on the sound of your voice.

  • Can you change the tone of your voice? Certainly. You can train your voice as a singer would.Try to listen to yourself while reading aloud. Listen to radio- and TV personalities. If you think you have a problem, take the trouble to record your voice, although you may not be a good critique yourself. It might also be of no use to ask your friends and family, as they are used to your voice. If you are really unsure, or find that people often ask you to repeat what you have said, it might be a good thing to call in the help of a voice coach.
  • People remember only 7% of what you said, but 38% of the tone and quality of your voice. So, they may not remember your name, but they will certainly notice and remember your voice.

Every radio advertisement needs the right voice and so do you need a great voice to create your own stylish advertisement and confidence.

Love style, live style.






Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 185 other followers