While the formal suit and tie tends to be the most preferred attire for political leaders, the iconic Nelson Mandela created a distinctive look of his own. He stood out from his political peers in his signature brightly coloured, patterned shirts.
Dubbed "the Madiba", after the late South African president's nickname, the shirts expressed more than personal style. He once commented that he wore the shirts to represent his people and their diverse cultures.
A Madiba shirt is a batik silk shirt, usually embellished in a bright and colourful print. Mandela first became fond of the item when he was given batik print shirts by Indonesia’s President Suharto in 1990.
In 1994, the designer Desré Buirski gave a gift of a hand-printed batik shirt to Nelson Mandela, with a note saying “Thank you for everything you have done and the sacrifices you have made for our beloved country”. Mandela wore the shirt the next day to the dress rehearsal for the opening of Parliament. Buirski went on to design 150 shirts for the president, defining his signature look and what is commonly referred to as the "Madiba Shirt."
Listen to the below interview with the shirt designer Buirski:
Madiba loved the striking batik shirts because "they allowed him to stand out from other global politicians." While the original shirt was designed by Desré Buirski, Madiba also wore shirts designed by Pathé Ouédraogo and Sonwabile Ndamase.
What do you think of the iconic leader's style?