by George Matsheke
posted in Fashion
In various South African cultures, a man’s words are given credence when he has a jacket on. Since time immemorial, this was and still is a basic form of dress wear for men. This is such a serious matter that one wouldn’t even think of addressing an audience comprised of men, wearing just a ’’ shirt” (or even shorts for that matter). In my own Xhosa culture, when a young man goes through the traditional rite of passage, one of the main items he receives as a gift is a new jacket to add to his new wardrobe. This unwritten rule permeates into the working world, depending on how strict your corporate environment is. I, for one, remember scurrying for a jacket to wear as an impromptu client meeting appeared in my diary during the course of the day.
If this clothing item were so important in various parts of society, one would think that men would take more care in how they select and wear their jackets. Surprisingly, most men’s choice of jacket has nothing to do with an outfit. In fact, one often finds that when men buy clothes (if they ever decide to venture into a shopping mall), this decision is largely driven by one of two things:
- To address a specific need – perhaps the need to attend a specific event
- An impulse – though this is less likely to be the case with men relative to women – (tongue in cheek).
This manner of purchasing often results in wearing pieces that either don’t match or make much of an outfit. The important question that one should always ask themselves when purchasing an item of clothing is; “what goes well with this?”, or “what can I wear with that? “. These questions often go hand-in-hand with a view of the various thematic events for which a specific jacket would be appropriate.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s recognize that most men need to start somewhere. I remember having to go through this wardrobe transformation at the start of my career after having to let go of my prized varsity hoodies and sweatpants. With a shoe-string budget, keeping in mind that I needed enough clothes to last me a week at work until the first paycheck, I had to think about the essential ingredients to building a basic wardrobe.
Since we’re limiting this discussion to formal wear; I realized that I needed three basic colours; black, grey and navy blue.
- Black jacket – Always remember to keep it simple in the very beginning, stick with a solid black. I used to call my first black jacket ‘Ol’faithful’ because it made life so easy. I could readily walk into meetings with management and clients looking like I’ve put effort into my office appearance. It works well with dark trousers and patterned shirts.
- Grey jacket – This jacket was a failsafe for me on laundry days. Since grey is a neutral colour, I could pair this jacket with a variety of shirts and trousers because it toned down my outfit and made my style look effortless.
- Navy jacket – I really had fun with this one. It enabled me to pull-off classy preppy looks with either white or powder blue shirts that looked exceptionally good when worn together with chinos or jeans on casual Fridays.
Once I started to develop a sense of style, I started to add to other colours to my collection of jackets to bring variety into my wardrobe which steadily resembled that of a respectable gentleman deserving of an audience in society.
A word of advice, if you can’t afford a tailor, make sure your off-the-rack jackets fit you very well. (It’s such an eye-sore to see a guy wearing what would, otherwise, be a beautiful jacket looking like he stole it from his father’s wardrobe). The trouble with off-the-rack garments is that they are made using universal “one size fits all” measurements which hardly cater for the general population. When buying an off-the-rack jacket, there are at least two rules of thumb:
- Ensure the jacket tapers to your shoulders and back – This is one area which tailors try avoid tampering with when you take a jacket in for alterations. The only alterations you may need to have on an off-the rack jacket are perhaps the sleeve lengths.
- Be comfortable with the jacket’s length – given that modern cut jackets are slightly shorter than what our fathers wore, shortening them later becomes a problem because the side pockets are very difficult to move upwards (depending on whether they’ve been sewn on the outside or not)
Apart from this, and assuming your budget starts to widen; it may be time to step your game up a notch and develop a good relationship with a tailor, because once you get a tailored garment, you can never go back.
Writer: Ndzutha Mngqibisa