On Thanksgiving Day, 1992 my mother and grandmother took me to see Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X.’ His story is inspiring and his life’s work immeasurable, yet I was equally impressed with his dapper appearance. The Civil Rights era was equally blessed with the tireless work of Martin Luther King, Jr. These two are often seen as the paving the way for the election of this nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, who participated in his second inauguration today.
Certainly, there’s no shortage of the brightly colored T-shirts with screen-printed images of the three men together. Those same shirts are often accompanied with something along the lines of “Living the Dream.” Exacting change doesn’t come in cheesy 3X T-shirts. Those are simply tacky. The look of leadership requires some austerity, some elegance, some class. In short, it requires style. These three men knew how to look in order to gain the trust and admiration of the population. While speaking and acting the part will garner attention, a carefully selected wardrobe drives home the message.
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. wore suits relatively consistent with the times. They both opted for three-button suits with narrow lapels and dark, slim ties.
The looks echoed the messages of autonomy and responsibility they dedicated their lives to seeking. The emphasis seemed to be on fit and proportion. Malcolm X’s collar were slightly more pointed in keeping with his more narrow face and lean frame.
Archive photos show MLK reached for the elegance of a French cuff shirt shirt, almost always white.
A dark suit connotes a certain seriousness that was crucial to the very serious times.
Clothes played an essential part; stylish enough, but not too overpowering.
Today, Barack Obama was sworn in again. In his inaugural address, the president emphatically stated his desires and plans to have a more inclusive America, action on climate change and a forceful stance on gay marriage. He certainly looked the part, as is often the case. While he wore the standard politician uniform of a navy suit, white shirt and patterned light blue necktie, it was all in the details. While the days of Malcolm and MLK limited their color selection of suits and ties, the president has a colorful range in his wardrobe.
His semi-spread collar suits his face and his perfectly knotted tie complete with dimple speaks of a man who pays attention to the finer details of dress.
These are the style examples to follow. For those who must take the conservative route, dressing needn’t be boring. By paying attention to the details, the effects are greater than a more colorful get-up. This is, of course, for the men who must look put together enough that they grab the attention of people, but not so much that they look like narcissistic braggarts.
Assemble yourself elegantly and accordingly, like a leader would.