Black leather jackets have long been a style staple among South Africans, particularly President Jacob Zuma, who routinely shuns traditional suit coats and blazers for a hipper alternative.
Still, it was a snazzier version of Zuma’s sartorial standby that turned heads — in the opposite direction. The recently-elected president appeared at his victory party last May in a leather jacket embellished with yellow and green racing stripes, in homage to the country’s national colors.
Hoping to capitalize on Zuma’s Man of the People persona and promote party identity, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has launched a line of 19 brightly colored leather jackets which include a replica of Zuma’s, fittingly named the “President No 1.”
Though Zuma’s politics may have inspired South Africans to vote for him, they might be less inclined to dress like him. In a poll by South Africa’s Independant Online, 86% of respondents said they wouldn’t don the fluorescent threads.
Safari Wear in the Hermit Kingdom
For a man who enjoys the finer things — he reportedly takes pleasure in Hollywood DVDs and expensive liquor, even as millions of North Koreans suffer in extreme hardship — you’d think Kim Jong Il would be a snappier dresser. Kim can mostly be found wearingunflattering khaki safari suits and Kanye West–sized sunglasses, accessorized with five-inch platform shoes to boost the diminutive Dear Leader’s height and a high-and-tightpompadour that apparently serves the same purpose. Whereas his ill-fitting suits once did little to conceal Kim’s paunch, in recent photographs he has seen wearing clothing several sizes smaller than usual — a result, analysts say, of his recent illness.
The Matthew McConaughey of Russia
Does Vladimir Putin work out? You bet your babushka he does, and he wants you to appreciate the results. Whether he’s riding a stallion, catching some fish or hunting big game, the barrel-chested Prime Minister of Russia just can’t seem to keep his shirt on. The former judo champion has been photographed topless on so many occasions that even venerated ABC newsman Charlie Gibson felt compelled to try to explain just what’s going on here. The answer? In a country where alcoholism is rife and life spans are shrinking, ahale, hearty and often shirtless leader is an example to all Russians of the importance of clean living. The rest of us just wonder whether he waxes.
Cloak and Dagger
For 17 years, after leading a bloody 1973 military coup that toppled the Chilean government and executed then President Salvador Allende, dictator Augusto Pinochet ruled his country with brutal force: thousands of leftist opponents went missing under hisregime. In keeping with his previous career as an army general, Pinochet habitually wore an exceedingly sinister-looking army uniform and polished jackboots. But he was also known for donning capes from time to time, which, frankly, was overdoing it: considering his already terrifying reputation, the cape lent the aging despot the appearance of a dapperDracula.
Gaddafi the Clotheshorse
Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has raised many an eyebrow over his four-decade rule: keeping cheetahs as pets, staying in nomad tents during trips abroad citing fear of buildings and surrounding himself with a posse of beautiful, gun-toting female bodyguards are just a few of his eccentric habits. However, nothing has shaped his colorful reputation more than his flamboyant fashion sense. Gaddafi is frequently seen swathed in bright, rainbow-colored silk drapes, Bedouin robes, dashikis and animal skins that he dons as a nod to his African heritage, but which might be better suited for the cast of the Lion King. During a diplomatic trip to Italy last June, he prominently pinned to his chest a picture of a Libyan resistance fighter who was hanged by Italian colonialists in 1931. “For us, that image is like the cross some of you wear,” he explained during an Italian news conference, referencing Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
Move Over, Bill Cosby
Don’t call it a sweater. It’s actually a chompa: a traditional, hand-knit pullover of alpacawool considered refined among the indigenous people of Bolivia — such as the country’s President, Evo Morales. The leftist leader is clearly not the business-suit type, says one analyst: “I don’t see him wearing Armani suits, something very common among Latin American Presidents. That would be criticized much more.”
Photographs of Morales wearing the frock everywhere from Spain to China to South Africa, over an open-necked shirt or dressed up with a black, shiny leather jacket, have made the pullover a must-have item back home. In 2006, a Bolivian businessman started a line of wool sweaters called Evo Fashion, designed to look just like the President’s.
Iran’s Members Only President
Given Iran’s strict religious culture and the series of grim-faced, dourly dressed clerics that have been the face of the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution, one might expect more of the same from newly re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But Ahmadinejad’s relaxed approach to fashion has garnered almost as much attention as his hard-line politics.
Like most Iranians, the President does not wear a necktie — a rule that was set in place by Ayatullah Khomeini, who banned them for being decadent and un-Islamic and for contributing to the spread of Western culture. Instead, he opts for simple cotton shirts topped with his trademark, a $30 Chinese-made khaki windbreaker purchased from a Tehran bazaar. The windbreaker, commonly dubbed the Ahmadinejacket, is widelyderided for its similarity to the Members Only jackets that were briefly popular in the West in the 1980s; still, it has become popular among supporters hoping to emulate the President’s look.
Brought to You by Adidas
Fidel Castro is an Adidas man. Apparently the yanqui-baiting octogenarian, formerly adie-hard fan of military fatigues, now favors the kind of ready-to-wear warm-up gear that only a German-based sports company can provide. While recuperating from surgery in 2006, Castro shunned the standard hospital gown and instead opted to showcase his good health by donning a red, white and blue tracksuit emblazoned with the familiar logo. “We don’t really look at it as anything,” Travis Gonzolez, head of Adidas p.r., told the New York Times when asked about the apparent endorsement. “It’s not a positive, not a negative. We are a sports brand. We are making products for athletes, we are not making them for leaders.” Which explains why Adidas agreed in 2004 and 2008 to outfit Cuba’s Olympic team.
The New Red Scare
Revolutions come in every color: green armbands in Tehran, orange-clad protesters in Ukraine and a bright red President in Venezuela attempting to convey his political message by dressing like a human crayon. A signifier of class struggle since the late 1800s, the color red was once ubiquitous in communist strongholds such as the Soviet Union and China. Venezuela’s leftist President Hugo Chávez has kept the message alive by using it as a staple in all of his political demonstrations, as well as his personal wardrobe. Whether it is a red tie peeking out of his formal suits during official state visits, a red beret topping the olive fatigues he often wears as a tribute to his military background, or the head-to-toe combos he sports during his weekly TV show, the color is always there as a reminder that Chávez and Venezuela are firmly entrenched in socialism — as if we could forget.
He founded a country, promulgated an ideology and fostered a zealous personality cultwhose members terrorized all of China, so it’s only to be expected that Mao Zedong would start a fashion trend too. During his 30-year reign as China’s Chairman and national hero, Mao regularly appeared in a proletarian four-pocket jacket first introduced by Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen as a counterpoint to the Western business suit. By the time of the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, variations on the androgynous green, gray or blue Mao suit were everywhere: it was the uniform of choice for Mao’s young followers as theyrooted out his supposed capitalist enemies. But after Mao’s death in 1976, the look began to fall out of fashion. Almost without exception, today’s Chinese leaders wear Western business suits. The style is still popular among older, rural Chinese, however, and it has reappeared in boutiques in Hong Kong and Shanghai — a popularity fueled mostly by a sense of postmodern irony among young urbanites.