Winnie Madikizela-Mandela perfected the art of power dressing

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at a meeting in honour of Nelson Mandela at Freedom Park, Pretoria, on November 5 2009.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at a meeting in honour of Nelson Mandela at Freedom Park, Pretoria, on November 5 2009.
Image: Foto24/Gallo

While the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was never afraid to speak her mind, she often made bold statements with her sartorial choices too.

One of the most prolific icons of the struggle movement, she wore traditional outfits and accessories during a time when donning cultural wear was seen as a political taboo.

Her former husband, Nelson Mandela, famously wore a Xhosa outfit to court in 1962, when he was tried for leaving the country without a valid passport. Madikizela-Mandela reaffirmed his point by donning traditional dress, too.

In Long Walk To Freedom, Madiba explained the symbolism of his outfit: "The kaross was ... a sign of contempt for the niceties of white justice. I well knew the authorities would feel threatened by my kaross as so many whites feel threatened by the true culture of Africa".
As can be seen in photos dating from the '70s, even when dressed in the latest fashions, Madikizela-Mandela often reflected her African roots with her choice of beaded jewellery or head wraps. Something she continued to throughout her life.
“She made South African women believe in who they are and made traditional wear acceptable. It used to be black tie, tux and European dress codes, but she stood firm,” said designer Sonwabile Ndamase, who had dressed Madikizela-Mandela since the 1980s, in an article in the Sowetan. 

Having declared that her marriage to the ANC was one of the best she’s been in, Madikizela-Mandela was also famed for showing her loyalty to the party by incorporating its colours into her outfits.

Although always beautifully attired, Madikizela- Mandela once said in a Sunday Times interview that she had no “particular fashion style" and simply appreciated the clothes that were made for her.

From power suits to gowns, sunglasses to headgear, it was her willingness to experiment that made her a true style icon.

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