17. Nelson Mandela made Indonesian shirts a massive hit in his native South Africa
In the 1990s, men across South Africa started sporting a new kind of shirt. It was known as the ‘Madiba shirt’ or ‘Mandela shirt’, in honor of the freedom fighter, then President, who made the style so popular. Even now, Nelson Mandela’s formidable legacy can be seen everywhere in his native country, including in the clothes its people wear.
Upon being released from prison in 1990, Mandela worked for reconciliation, not revenge. Four years after being freed from the island prison cell he had called home for 27 long years, he was President of South Africa. World leaders wasted no time in congratulating him, with many sending him gifts. The leader of Indonesia sent Mandela a brightly-colored shirt made from batik cloth, a popular garment in the Asian country. The elder statesman was delighted – and he adopted that type of shirt for his everyday dress.
Over the years, Mandela wore hundreds of different versions of the shirt. Some were patterned to celebrate South Africa’s rich flora and fauna, others in bright colors. Sometimes he wore them to greet national leaders, eschewing the usual suit and tie. He famously even wore one for his 90th birthday party. By the late-1990s, Mandela had become a style icon and bright batik shirts were being sold – and worn – right across the newly-democratic country.
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